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Described as one of the finest 17th century flower albums ever seen at auction, it contained some 207 flower paintings on vellum and was created around 1665 for Barthold Moller, a mayor of Hamburg. Though known from contemporary records, it had long been presumed lost and was only recently rediscovered – reportedly in a library which had failed to recognise what they had and will not benefit from this particular sale.

The Moller Florilegium is the work of Hans Simon Holtzbecker, an artist who enjoyed a great reputation in his lifetime but in succeeding centuries has been unjustly forgotten, and its rediscovery and identification has also resulted in the re-attribution of a companion volume which had previously been credited to someone much better known, Maria Sibylla Merian.

Holtzbecker is now known to have executed around 3000 flower paintings of the highest quality, but these are contained in only four different works (in a total of 11 volumes) and many of them have traditionally been credited to someone else. Presumably a record of Moller’s own gardens, the florilegium originally comprised five volumes, but only this recently re-discovered and re-attributed album and one other, now in Oak Spring Garden Library (the collection of Rachel Lambert Mellon) at Upperville, Virginia, and identically bound in red morocco, have survived. That offered at Christie’s contains only bulbous plants, and mostly spring flowers at that, with the result that snowdrops, crocuses, fritillaria, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, narcissi and amaryllis are dominant. Shown top right are ‘Narcisssus tazetta, Pancratium illyricum & Narcissus cyclamineus’ and bottom right, ‘Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Lady)’. The estimate for this beautiful collection was set at £500,000-700,000 and at that lower level, plus a lot of premium, it sold to Rosenthal.