Herba Greca, [Greek Mint Branch. Branche de menthe, Balsamita major Desf.] ITALIAN SCHOOL

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Herba Greca, [Greek Mint Branch. Branche de menthe, Balsamita major Desf.]
Numbered ‘323’ and annotated by F. Cesi
Black stone, watercolor enhanced with white, with framing lines in brown ink done with a feather pen
Watercolor mount signaling collection of George III
Sight size: 11 1/2 x 16 in; Frame size: 19 1/2 x 26 in

Provenance: Prince Frederico Cesi. Cassiano dal Pozzo, 1633; then by descendants until 1703; Pope Clement XI; Cardinal Alessandro Albini, 1713; Robert Adam, 1752; George III of England, 1757, with his associated montage; until WWI, G.H. Boone; its sale Sotheby’s, New York, September 16, 1987, part of lot 135 (and 139 for the other three.)
Illustrated: Fig. 46 in Henrietta McBurney, “The later history of Cassiano dal Pozzo’s ‘Museo cartaceo,’”
The Burlington Magazine, cxxxi, no. 1037, August 1989, pp. 549–53.


Study of a sprig of Greek mint annotated, possibly by Federico Cesi or an associate, describing the medicinal properites of this herb. Namely, stating that the dried flute of this plant aids in relieving cold symptons and digestive ailments.

In 1603, at age eighteen, Prince Federico Cesi founded the Accademia dei Lincei with the belief that nature should be studied through direct observation, and not through the filter of Aristotelian philosophy. Its name came from Lynceus, the argonaut of Greek mythology renowned for his sharpness of sight. Initial members included Cesi, the mathematician Francesco Stelluti, the physician Johannes Eck from the Low Countries, and the polymath Anastasio De Fillis. The members lived communally and almost monastically in Cesi’s house, where he provided them with books and laboratory equipment. In a 1605 document, the goals of the academy were stated to be “not only to acquire knowledge of things and wisdom, and living together justly and piously, but also peacefully to display them to men, orally and in writing, without any harm.” The most famous member of the academy was Galileo, who was inducted in the spring of 1611, during his visit to Rome. The academy’s most celebrated publications were those of Galileo, first his Letters on Sunspots in 1613, and then his Assayer in 1623. After Galileo’s induction, the membership grew rapidly, and at its height the Lyncean Academy had 32 members, including many in foreign countries. Cesi devoted the rest of his life to these goals and his academy.

In 1624 Galileo gave his fellow academicians a microscope, and with this novel “aid to the eyes,” wrote another Linceo, “our Prince Cesi saw to it that many plants hitherto believed by botanists to be lacking in seeds were drawn on paper.” Indeed, these drawings constitute some of the earliest microscopic studies in the history of science This sheet appears to be one from this extensive series of illustrations prepared by Cesi and his associates as part of a projected illustrated botanical encyclopedia. Known as the Erbario Miniato, the sheets were bound in several volumes, one of which is at the Royal Library, Windsor. Cassiano Dal Pozzo, who had joined the Accademia in 1623, bought Cesi’s illustrated books from his widow in 1633, and added them to his private library, using them for his famous Museo Cartaceo.



The Medici influence in the arts and sciences continued well into the seventeenth century. Fellow Florentine Cassiano dal Pozzo established an exemplar for the next generation of Italian intellectual elite by forming one of the most ambitious projects in the history of art collecting.

The principal scholars, antiquaries, scientists and collectors in Europe admired Cassiano dal Pozzo above all for the extraordinarily important collection he began to assemble in the mid-1600s, the so-called Museo Cartaceo, or Paper Museum. This “museum” was to consist of drawings and prints of many relics of antiquity, and also of geological specimens, plants and animals from all over the world. It was to be open for study to artists and scholars. Cassiano had connections to the very wealthy and influential Florentine family: the Medici.

Cassiano maintained connections with important patrons and friends, like the Medici family, who helped make their collections of bird specimens available for painterly use. Moreover, in 1603 he was admitted to Federico Cesi’s Accademia dei Lincei, a scientific society of which Galileo was also a member. This must have given special impetus to dal Pozzo’s collection of natural history drawings of which many of the bird studies were destined for reproduction in G. P. Olina’s L’Uccelliera, published in 1622. Because of the renown of Cassiano’s collection, much of it, including these watercolors, were later acquired by the English Royal Family.