Buffon, was a French aristocrat of formidable intellect and achievements, including books on mathematics and natural history. Although his father initially steered him toward law school, Buffon persisted in pursuing his interest in math. At the age of 20, he discovered the binomial theorem and later introduced differential and integral calculus into probability theory. He soon became fascinated with biological science, and his father relented and let him enroll in the faculty of medicine to study botany and zoology. As a young man in Paris, he befriended Voltaire and other intellectuals, and gained admission to the prestigious Academy of Science at age 27. Decades before Darwin introduced his theory of evolution, Buffon dared to challenge religious thought with empirical observations, suggesting that the earth was older than 6,000 years and that the physical resemblance between humans and apes might be explained by their having a common ancestry. While the theories he proposed to explain these phenomena were by and large incorrect, he correctly grasped that a new paradigm was needed.
Buffon also published a different 44-volume natural history work with various studies, including birds, titled Histoire Naturelle Generale Et Particuliere [Natural History, General and Particular] (Paris, 1749-1804), which included works by various artists including Jacques Eustache de Sève. This work was his major achievement and an ambitious project characteristic of the 18th-century Enlightenment: a 44-volume encyclopedia attempting to include everything known about the natural world and widely disseminate scientific knowledge. It was the first complete natural history survey presented in a popular form, and also broke ground in attempting to separate science from theological dogma.
Francois Nicolas Martinet was a French engraver and draughtsman. In 1756, he was working for the court of France as Graveur du Cabinet du Roi, under the auspices of the Menus Plaisirs du Roi, making engravings after drawings by others of such subjects as the May Ball at Versailles during the Carnival of 1763. In the same period, Martinet produced illustrations for plays or comic operas by such contemporaries as Marmontel, Voltaire and Philidor. Some of these he engraved himself, while others were drawn by him but engraved by his sister Thérèse Martinet (born c. 1731). He is best known for his engravings of birds for Comte de Buffon’s, Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux published in Paris from 1770-86. In 1768, a comprehensive group of natural history studies drafted by Martinet, and engraved by Robert Bénard were included in the natural history volume of Diderot and Alembert’s Encyclopédie. Martinet also drew and engraved portraits, landscapes and genre scenes.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual light toning, soiling, soft creases. Some papers with subtle cream tone, others with subtle blue tone, as typical for this work. Overall bright and attractive.
Anker, Jean. Bird Books and Bird Art. 1938. New York: Martino, 1990. 76.
Balis, Jan. Merveilleux plumages. Dix siècles de livres d’oiseaux. Brussels: Bibliothèque Royale Albert Ier, 1969. 40.
“Buffon.” Info Science Portraits. 1998-2003. http://www.infoscience.fr/histoire/portrait/buffon.html (16 June 2003).
Mengel, Robert M. A Catalogue of the Ellis Collection of Ornithological Books in the University of Kansas Libraries. Lawrence: University of Kansas Libraries, 1972. 411.
“François-Nicolas Martinet.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/05/0546/T054693.asp.
“Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.” UMCP Exhibition Halls: Evolution. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/buffon2.html (16 June 2003).
Jackson, Christine. Dictionary of Bird Artists of the World. p.356.
Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbucher: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1976. 158.
O’Connor, J.J. and Robertson, E.F. “Georges Buffon.” School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland. 1996. http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Buffon.html (16 June 2003).
Ronsil, R. Bibiliographie Ornithologique Française. Paris: 1948. 413.
Sacheverell Sitwell. Sitwell, Sacheverell. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. p. 63.
Stresemann, Erwin. Ornithology from Aristotle to the Present. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975. p. 59.