Salomon de Caus, La perspective (1612)

This 1612 edition of La perspective avec la raison des ombres et miroirs by Salomon de Caus (1576-1626) is a fascinating book. The work develops a theory of perspective in drawing by the French Huguenot De Caus, a hydraulic engineer, architect, and garden designer who designed gardens, fountains, grottoes, and aviaries for Queen Anna of Denmark, King James’s eldest son Prince Henry, and his sister Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia.

La perspective develops a theory of perspective drawing, ranging in subjects from anamorphosis to shadows and mirrors. It also includes wonderful paper flaps and pop ups. Christies notes that it is “apparently only the second book printed in England to make use of folding or pop-up flaps in illustrations, after John Dee’s Euclid of 1570.”

This particular copy of the book is extremely significant in terms of its provenance since it is bound in vellum bearing the arms of Elizabeth Stuart and her husband Frederick I, King of Bohemia.

Their armorial stamp can also be seen on the binding of the British Library copy of Jean Baptiste Legrain’s Decade contenant la vie et gestes de Henry le Grand Roy de France et de Navarre (1614), shown in the British Library’s database of bookbindings, here.

In her excellent biography of Elizabeth, Nadine Akkerman notes that 1612, when the book came out, was when De Caus “allegedly taught her and her brother Henry art and music … the year after he had designed Anna’s French garden in Greenwich” (110), though she is careful to note that there is no clear source that helps us establish De Caus’s role as tutor (431, n. 11). De Caus dedicated La perspective to Henry, who would die later that year.

Bookseller Detlev Auvermann suggests the book may have been given to Elizabeth by De Caus on the occasion of her marriage in 1613, which certainly appears to be a possibility. It is not included in a list of eighty books sent to Elizabeth in 1622, while she lived in exile in the Netherlands. As Emily Rose’s article on the list shows, Elizabeth’s reading was broad and multilingual–the list itemizes books in four languages. Rose notes that a few books from her collection are extant but does not list La perspective among them.

In any case, Elizabeth was, as Rose explains, “an avid book collector” (156). Akkerman discusses her early representation as reader in a youthful portrait in which she holds her prayer book with an inscription by her mother. In a twist, she covers the last word of the inscription with her thumb, an indication of a type of agency, writes Akkerman, for a “young woman whose legacy was contested from the moment she was born” (45).

Robert Peake the Elder, portrait of Princess Elizabeth, ca. 1606. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Kate T. Davison, in memory of her husband, Henry Pomeroy Davison, 1951 (51.194.1)

Akkerman recounts how in 1614, two years after La perspective was published, De Caus was made “Master of the Gardens, Fountains and Grottoes of Heidelberg Castle.” Elizabeth would continue to be his patron and employer until 1619, as he worked with her not only as garden designer but also as designer of masques, another art form that requires a keen sense of perspective (see Akkerman, 110-112).

Source: book offered for sale 5/22/2022 by Detlev Auvermann Rare Books; images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Nadine Akkerman, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Hearts. Oxford University Press, 2021.

David Marsh, “Solomon de Caus in England.” Garden Trust Blog, 2019.

Emily Rose, “Books Owned by a Renaissance Queen: Elizabeth of Bohemia (1622).” De Gulden Passer 98.1 (2020): 151-193.