Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères was a four-volume set containing 11 plain and 412 hand-colored plates, including monkeys, lions, elephants, etc. It was among the most important works produced in the early 19th century on the study and classification of animals.
Each print bears the artist name “Werner,” presumably Jean-Charles Werner, a natural history illustrator for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Werner is also known for his illustrations of animals produced for Dumont d’Urville on his important scientific expeditions to Australia and the South Pacific. His works today are principally in the collection of the Museum of Natural History in Paris.
Étienne Geoffrey St. Hilaire was a celebrated French zoologist. He received a law degree in 1790 and went on to study medicine and scinece. During the French Revolution, he risked his life to save some of his professors and colleagues from being executed during the Reign of Terror. At the age of 21 he was appointed a professor of vertebrate zoology at the Museum of Natural History, where he remained until 1840 and developed an internationally important collection of specimens. In 1795, he invited the young naturalist Georges Cuvier to join the staff and the two collaborated on several research projects. Geoffroy accompanied Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, returning to Paris with many animal specimens. In 1807, Geoffroy became a member of the Academie des Sciences, and in 1809 a professor of zoology at the University of Paris . His major works were Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères and Philosophie Anatomique (1818-1822).
Georges Cuvier is credited with almost single-handedly founding the discipline of vertebrate paleontology. Perhaps his greatest achievement was establishing that there were previous lifeforms that had become extinct. He contributed to the study of vertebrate and invertebrate zoology and paleontology, as well as the history of science. Cuvier began his career in Normandy, and came to Paris in 1795 at the invitation of Geoffroy St. Hilaire, where he became a professor of animal anatomy and superintendent of the zoo at the Museum of Natural History. Appointed a state councillor by Napoleon, he continued to pursue his research and lecturing in natural history. He was recognized by being knighted and made a Baron and Peer of France.
Geoffroy and Cuvier represented opposing strains of thought in biology. Cuvier was a “functionalist,” stating that the organ systems of vertebrates were only related by their functions. Geoffroy, by contrast was a “formalist,” seeing all vertebrates as variants of a basic form, discerning what would come to be known as homologous organs, e.g. the flipper of a dolphin was related to the wing of a bat or the hand of a man. His work became important to the development of the theory of evolutionary biology by Darwin and others. Cuvier, by contrast, held a “functionalist” view of organisms which led him to reject the idea of common ancestry of vertebrates – he felt that any similarities between organs of different animals were solely the result of their having similar functions. While later scientists rejected that idea, Cuvier’s functionalist orientation led him to the insight that it was possible to reconstruct organisms from fragmentary fossil remains, and his work in this area was influential and important.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soft creases.
“Étienne Geoffroy St. Hilaire.” University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/hilaire.html (25 March 2004).
“Georges Cuvier.” University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/cuvier.html (25 March 2004).