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.
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