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Bird, Art, Italian, Manetti, Pheasant, Italian, Antique Watercolor, 18th Century


Attributed to Lorenzo Lorenzi (act. c. 1760) and Violante Vanni (c. 1732-1776) (artists and engravers)
Fagiano della China bianco, e porporino cupo/ Phasianus Sinensis albus ac nigro purpureus
[Pheasant from China, white and deep purple]
Florence: 2nd Half 18th Century
Pen and ink and watercolor on laid paper, later mounted to card
17 x 13 inches

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This watercolor painting of what is now known as the silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera), native to China and Southeast Asia, is probably the original study for the print published in Saviero Manetti’s Storia naturale, one of the greatest natural history color plate ornithological sets of the 18th century. Both this original watercolor and the print published by Manetti have the identical title and plate number. The watercolor shows the bird facing left, which is the reverse (mirror image) of the print, in which the bird faces right (see detail image from an Italian print dealer). This would occur if the image was copied onto a printing plate and a print was pulled: the printed image would be reversed. The plate number and title are in manuscript ink in the bottom margin, in the same style of calligraphy as in the prints in Storia naturale. However, on the prints, the plate number is in the upper right corner, the title of the print is along the top edge and the dedication information along the bottom edge.

Product description continues below.


Manetti’s Storia Naturale …  [Natural History of the Birds Treated Systematically and Adorned with Copperplate Engraving Illustrations, in Miniature and Life-Size.] (Giuseppe Vanni, Florence: 1767-76) is a series of charming engraved Italian ornithological studies.  They are characteristically Italianate in composition, each bird often imbued with a whimsical or quirky character.  Nonetheless, they maintain a scientific accuracy in illustrating various species, as typical in the Age of Enlightenment. The broad spectrum of birds includes European ducks, owls, and shore birds, as well as birds from exotic locales in Asia and Africa, such as parrots, ostriches, laughing thrushes, albatrosses and penguins. Some plates bear dedications to prominent individuals such as clergy or university professors. In keeping with the European style of bird studies of the period, they are otherwise simple compositions — the birds often standing on patch of ground or rock, perched on a tree branch, or swimming in a small vignette of water.

The natural history scholar S. Peter Dance has described how the plates are distinctly Italian in sensibility, portraying the birds with a touch of whimsy in keeping with the rococo taste of the period:

The production of Manetti’s five massive folio volumes must have been one of the most remarkable publishing ventures ever undertaken in Florence. Begun in 1767 and completed ten years later, it was larger, better engraved and more vividly coloured than any previous work on birds, but these are not its only claim to fame. The attitudes of the birds themselves give this book its unique character. Strutting, parading, posturing, and occasionally flying over its plate are birds whose real-life counterparts would surely disown them, and not without reason, for Manetti seems in these pictures to be depicting the human comedy, the habits and mannerisms of contemporary Italian society. Nonetheless his book may still be rated among the very greatest bird books.

Saviero (also spelled Xaviero) Manetti was a physician and naturalist. He was a graduate of the University of Pisa, member of the Royal Society and served as president of the Botanical Society of Florence, as well as being the director of the Florentine Botanical Garden from 1749 to 1782. Manetti edited and wrote the descriptions for the ambitious five-volume work of folio plates called Storia Naturale degli Uccelli (1767-76), commissioned by Maria Luisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, who had a passion for ornithology. In the text, Manetti asserted that all the birds were drawn from life or from firsthand study of their skins.

Lorenzo Lorenzi and Violante Vanni served as the artists and engravers, creating over 600 individual illustrations in a seven-year period. Lorenzi was  also a Tuscan abbot. In addition to contributing plates to Manetti’s Storia Naturale degli Uccelli, he made engravings after Annibale Caracci, Giovanni Manozzi and other artists. Vanni worked as an engraver in her native Florence in the mid 18th century, an unusual occupation for a woman of that era. A student of the British artist Robert Strange, she engraved religious subjects and portraits, as well as contributing both artwork and engravings to Manetti’s Storia Naturale degli Uccelli.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning. Faint mat burn very outer edges, not obtrusive. Later mounted on cardboard, appears to be a stable backing.


Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 5, p. 637 (Lorenzi), Vol. 8, p. 471 (Vanni).

Dance, S. Peter. The Art of Natural History: Animal Illustrators and their Work. London : 1978, p. 70.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Great Flower Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. p. 92.

Storia Naturale: Ornitologia.” Libreria Antiquaria Ex Libris. (17 August 2017).

Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbucher: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1976. 588.

“Lorenzo Lorenzi: Gallo Commune…” Vatican Library Collection. 2002. (2 May 2005).

Wood, Casey A. (ed.) An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology Based Chiefly on the Titles in the Blacker Library of Zoology, the Emma Shearer Wood Library of Ornithology, the Bibliotheca Osleriana, and Other Libraries of McGill University, Montreal. London: Humphry Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931. p. 450.

Zimmer, John Todd. Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library. Zoological Series, Publ. 239-240, Vol. 16. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1926. p. 241.

Additional information


18th C. Birds