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Natural History Art, Marine Life, Diderot & Alembert’s Encyclopedie, 18th C, Antique Print

Denis Diderot (1713-84) and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (editors)
Francois Nicolas Martinet (c. 1725 – c. 1804) (after)
Robert Bénard (b. 1734) (engraver)
Shell and Coral Studies
from Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de lettres — Recueil de Planches sur les Sciences, les Arts Libéraux, et les Arts Méchaniques, avec leur Explication
[Encyclopedia or Annotated Dictionary — Collection of Plates on the Sciences, Liberal Arts and Mechanical Arts, with Their Explanations]

Chez Briasson, David, Le Breton & Durand, Paris: 1768
Hand-colored engravings
14 x 9 inches, platemark, average approximate
15.25 x 10 inches each, overall
$250 to $550 each

Product Description Continues Below


A series of natural history studies of a variety of seashells, coral, sea anemones, starfish, crabs, and other deep sea life, arranged against white backgrounds. They combine scientific observation and aesthetic appreciation of the lively interplay of the natural colors, textures, and shapes of the specimens.

Diderot’s Encyclopédie, a landmark, profusely illustrated work of the French Enlightenment, contained 72,000 articles written by more than 140 contributors on the arts and sciences. The entire encyclopedia was published between 1751 and 1772 and ultimately comprised 17 volumes of text, accompanied by 11 volumes of illustrative engravings. The subjects included areas of scientific inquiry such as anatomy, geology, and mineralogy, and of technology, including architecture, fireworks, agricultural and maritime equipment, surgery and the tools and methods of artisans and various professions. The sealife prints are from the volume devoted to “the three realms of natural history” — animals, plants and minerals. “The impact of the Encyclopédie was enormous. Through its attempt to classify learning and to open all domains of human activity to its readers, the Encyclopédie gave expression to many of the most important intellectual and social developments of its time.” (ARTFL Project)

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.

Robert Bénard is said to have contributed at least 1,800 engravings to Diderot and Alembert’s Encyclopédie, credited variously as either engraver (sculp) or director of the printmaking workshop (direxit). He also worked on the plates for Cook’s travel journeys and wrote a monograph on silk for Description des arts.

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


“Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.” ARTFL Project, University of Chicago. May 2007. (7 March 2008).

Werner, Stephen. Blueprint: A Study of Diderot and the Encyclopédie Plates. Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 1993. p. 17.

Additional information


18th Century