The Herbier peint of Rosalie de Constant

Contemporary accounts give a vivid impression of Rosalie de Constant (1758-1834), the cousin of Benjamin Constant, the French novelist, politician and political philosopher. She was hunchbacked, but she played the mandolin and clavichord. She was short-sighted, and her attention to detail was expressed in an extensive set of paintings of Swiss plants. IMG_0786She wrote sonnets, proverbs and an unfinished novel, but is most well known for her Herbier peint, a large work of 1245 plates, in which she painted illustrations of plants, wrote descriptions of their use, and classified them. Rosalie de Constant created this work between 1795 and 1832, and it was donated to the Musée cantonal in 1844, and is now held in the Musée botanique cantonal.

The University Library has two volumes of Rosalie’s letters, as well as a volume of her travel writing:

  • Voyage en Suisse en 1819 / Rosalie de Constant (739:4.d.95.27)
  • Lettres de Rosalie de Constant : écrites de Lausanne à son frère Charles le Chinois en 1798 / publiées et annotées par Suzanne Roulin (2003.7.598)
  • Benjamin et Rosalie de Constant : correspondance, 1786-1830 / publiée avec une introduction et des notes par Alfred et Suzanne Roulin (738:42.c.95.37)

IMG_0790In addition to these works, the University Library has acquired an edition of some of the prints contained in her Herbier peint (Herbier des plantes suisses / de Rosalie de Constant, 1758-1834 – F196.a.3.1). The plates in this publication were issued on an annual basis by the insurance company La Suisse, Société d’assurances sur la vie, Société d’assurances contre les accidents (SwissLife) between 1960 and 1976, and bring together 64 reproductions of Rosalie’s illustrations of Swiss plants.

Dr Cecil Courtney, Emeritus Reader in French intellectual history and thought, recommended purchase of the Herbier peint when a copy appeared on the second-hand market. No other library on COPAC or WorldCat seems to own this item. Dr Courtney has worked extensively on Benjamin Constant for more than 30 years. His publications include Benjamin Constant: a bibliography to 1833 (London, MHRA, 1981), Isabelle de Charrière (Belle de Zuylen), a biography (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation 1993) and (as co-editor) the Œuvres complètes of Isabelle de Charrière (Amsterdam, 1979-1984, 10 vols.). He is General Editor of the Correspondance générale of Benjamin Constant (Tübingen, Niemeyer, 1993-, nine vols. published to date).

The University Library currently has on order the catalogue of an exhibition on the Herbier peint held at the Musée botanique cantonal in Switzerland.

Josh Hutchinson

 

 

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