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Natural History Art, Animals, Butterflies, Albertus Seba, Antique Prints, Amsterdam, Mid 18th Century

Albertus Seba (1665-1736) (editor)
Pierre Tanje (1706-1761), A. van der Laan, F. de Bakker, et al. (engravers)
[Butterflies] Tab. 14 and 15
from Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam
J. Wetsten, William Smith, Jansson-Waesberg et al., Amsterdam: 1734-1769
Hand-colored engravings
17 x 11 inches, plate mark
19.5 x 13.25 inches, overall
$600 each

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Prints of a variety of butterflies arranged in artful compositions. The engravings combine scientific observation and aesthetic appreciation of the intricate patterns and forms of their wings. Some also include caterpillars. They are from the premiere 18th-century collector’s cabinet of natural history, assembled by Albertus Seba.

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Description

Seba, a wealthy Dutch apothecary and member of the Dutch East India Company, was one of the prototypical collectors of natural curiosities and exotic species. His collection ranged from the beautiful to the odd and bizarre. It included birds, reptiles such as lizards and snakes, butterflies and other insects, shells and exotic sea life, unusual mammals such as bats and anteaters, as well as exotic plants. The collection also included some fakes, intended to attract attention and interest, such as a seven-headed hydra.

Seba’s first collection was sold to Peter the Great in 1716 and became part of his Kunstkammer or Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg, a museum of rare natural history specimens. Seba’s second collection was illustrated and described in a set of engraved-plate volumes. Seba recruited artists, including Pierre Tanje, a Dutch engraver, to illustrate his thesaurus of animals. The plates are characterized by artistic arrangements of specimens, sometimes apocryphal in color or form. Some specimens are arranged by species, while other prints including bizarre juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated animals and plants. Seba wrote most of the text for the first two volumes that accompanied the engravings. Among his collaborators were many of the most noted scientists of the day, including H. Boerhaave, P. van Musschenbroek, P. Massuet, H. D. Graubius, and P. Artedi. After Seba’s death in 1736, shortly after publication had commenced, the second collection was auctioned to finance the continued publication of the catalogue. Actual specimens from Seba’s cabinet of curiosities are still in collections in St. Petersburg, and in natural history museums around the world.

Pierre Tanje was a Dutch printmaker and draftsman. A student of Jakob Folhema, he engraved portraits, history, natural history and genre subjects. He is known for his work on engravings of the Dresden Gallery.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual light overall toning and wear.

References:

Anker, Jean. Bird Books and Bird Art. 1938. New York : Martino, 1990. 454.

Balis, Jan. Merveilleux plumages. Dix siècles de livres d’oiseaux. Brussels: Bibliothèque Royale Albert Ier, 1969. 43.

Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol 8, p. 220 (Tanje).

Drimmeln, Wim van, Ad Leerintveld and T. Vermeulen. Honderd hoogtepunten uit de Koninklijke Bibliotheek/ A Hundred Highlights from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Zwolle: Waanders Uitgevers, 1994. 63.

Landwehr, J. Studies in Dutch Books with Coloured Plates, 1662-1875. The Hague: 1976. 179.

Nissen, Claus. Die Botanische Buchillustration: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1951-66. 1825.

Nissen, Claus. Die Zoologische Buchillustration: ihre Bibliographie und Geschichte. Stuttgart:1969-78. 3793.

The Magnificent Botanical Library of the Stiftung fur Botanik, Vaduz Liechtenstein Collected by the late Arpad Plesch. London: Sotheby & Co., 1975. 862.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. 106.

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. 560.