Father and son Jacques and Paul Contant were apothecaries and collectors of cultural and natural history objects in Poitiers, where they amassed one of the most important cabinets de curiosité in seventeenth-century France. The Contants collected specimens from the Mediterranean region and exchanged objects with the University of Montpellier to form their large and unique collection. Their records indicate that the Contants owned thousands of items rare to Europe, including plants, animals, herbs, perfumes, fossils, thousands of bronze statuettes, and one 18-foot canoe. The “cabinet,” precursor to the modern museum, emerged during the Renaissance period as a display of wealth, sophistication, and learning.
This engraved title page details the contents of Les Oeuvres, the collected opus of the Contants. The volume was published in 1628, and includes five works of botanical catalogue in verse, among them Les commentaires fur Dioscoride, a botanical catalogue completed by Jacques Contant, and Le Second Eden, a poem by Paul Contant describing the plants in the Garden of Eden. Les Oeuvres fuses scientific inquiry and poetry in what is now considered one of the first “museum books,” a detailed and illustrated catalogue of an early natural history collection.