Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal | Cincinnati History Library and Archives

Hauck Botanical Exhibit

Matthias de L'Obel, 1538-1616

Plantarum, Seu, Stirpium Historia.
Antwerp: Christoph Plantin, 1576.

Cover of Plantarum, Seu, Stirpium Historia
Cover

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As one of the notable Belgian botanists of the sixteenth century, Matthias de L'Obel is remembered for his system of plant classification, published in Stirpium Adversaria Nova (1570) with the companion volume, Plantarum, Seu, Stirpium Historia, issued in 1576.

L'Obel is remembered for his system of plant classification.

Matthias de L'Obel was from Lille, a manufacturing town in Belgium. In 1565 he began his studies at the University of Montpellier in southern France with the renowned physician and naturalist, Guillaume Rondolet. There he met fellow student Pierre Pena. Having a common interest in botany, L'Obel and Pena became friends and went on botanical expeditions together. Following Rondolet's death in 1566, L'Obel and Pena left the university and arrived in England in 1569 with their collections of plants. They traveled throughout the British Isles collecting native plants and, in 1570, published the herbal, Stirpium Adversaria Nova.

Title page of Plantarum, Seu, Stirpium Historia
Title Page

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After the publication of Stirpium Adversaria Nova, Pena returned to the Continent, pursued a career in medicine, and became a successful physician. L'Obel remained in England for a time. By 1574 he was in Antwerp practicing medicine and working on his next book, the companion volume to Stirpium Adversaria Nova. Titled Stirpium Observationes, it would be profusely illustrated. In 1576 Christopher Plantin, the famous bookbinder, printer, and publisher from Antwerp, published the book that included "as many as 1.486 [plates]" (Greene 1983, part II, 881). Apparently, Plantin had other thoughts about the title. Although L'Obel's title appears as a running title at the top of each page; the title page reads Plantarum, seu, Stirpium historia . . . cui annexum est adversariorum volumen . . . .

Groups of plants from Plantarum, Seu, Stirpium Historia
Groups of Plants

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L'Obel stayed in Antwerp and was the physician to the stadtholder, William the Silent, until the latter's assassination in 1584. L'Obel then returned to England where he remained for the rest of his life.

Sources:

Blunt, Wilfrid. The Art of Botanical Illustration. London: Collins, 1950. pp. 63-65
 
Catalogue of Botanical Books. Pittsburgh: Hunt Botanical Library, 1958. vol. 1, #126, p. 134.
 
Greene, Edward Lee. Landmarks of Botanical History. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983. part II, pp. 877-937.

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