Historia Naturalis: De Avibus

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Codiology

Type
Extent / Format

300 pages / 38.0 x 22.0 cm

Origin
Date
1657
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

Author: Johannes Jonstonus (John Jonston) (1603 - 1675)
Engraver: Matthaeus Merian The Younger (1621 - 1687)

Illustrations

62 copperplate engravings

Short description

The wonderful, illustrated Book of Birds was a widely disseminated bestseller of the 17th century. It represents a volume of the five-volume Historia Naturalis of John Jonston. The Polish doctor and Renaissance man composed an encyclopedic overview for the history of animals, which was considered to be the standard work of zoology for a century. The series manifested in the years 1650-1653 in the publishing house of Matthäus Merian the Elder in Frankfurt am Main and experienced numerous translations and new editions. The success of the Historia Naturalis is particularly based on its illustrations from the hand of Matthäus Merian the Younger that were grandiose, loving, and simultaneously claimed to be scientific. Moreover, in the volume at hand of the Historia Naturalis de Avibus – the overview work for all kinds of birds – these copperplate engravings are magnificently colored.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Historia Naturalis: De Avibus

The wonderful, illustrated Book of Birds was a widely disseminated bestseller of the 17th century. It represents a volume of the five-volume Historia Naturalis of John Jonston. The Polish doctor and Renaissance man composed an encyclopedic overview for the history of animals, which was considered to be the standard work of zoology for a century. The series manifested in the years 1650-1653 in the publishing house of Matthäus Merian the Elder in Frankfurt am Main and experienced numerous translations and new editions. The success of the Historia Naturalis is particularly based on its illustrations from the hand of Matthäus Merian the Younger that were grandiose, loving, and simultaneously claimed to be scientific. Moreover, in the volume at hand of the Historia Naturalis de Avibus – the overview work for all kinds of birds – these copperplate engravings are magnificently colored.

Avis: Blackbird, Cockatoo, and Phoenix

Countless birds and other winged animals bustle about colorfully on the 62 copperplate engravings of the total of 227 pages of the Historia Naturalis de Avibus. The beholder and reader is informed about splendid peacocks, numerous domestic birds, but also exotic and sometimes curious or fantastical animals such as a penguin or a phoenix. The encyclopedic overview work is subdivided into individual chapters, e.g. vultures, falcons, parrots, ravens, owls, chickens and geese, ducks and waterfowl. Among the Avis, Latin for bird, all winged creatures were then counted, including bats among others. Similar to a medieval bestiary, included successively alongside real animals were also such fantastical creatures as phoenixes, harpies, and winged lions from Greek mythology – naturally with a wink in the 17th century. The volume thus offers a wonderful glimpse in the first attempts at a science of animals!

A Tireless Teacher

The famous writer of the Historia Naturalis was John Jonston (1603-1675) of Poland. The unusual named belies his Scottich heritage. Jonston’s primary occupation was as a doctor, but he nonetheless busied himself with countless disciplines and sciences and can therefore be described as a Renaissance man. As a tutor and tour guide he transmitted his knowledge to young noblemen. Nevertheless, Jonston was famous because of his scientific-pedagogical writings on such manifold themes as child-rearing, philosophy and theology, history, but also medicine or minerology, with the famous Historia Naturalis in five volumes leading the way. With his writings, Jonston intended to make the collected knowledge of the time accessible.

An Encyclopedia of Animals

For his incomplete magnum opus, Jonston planned a comprehensive illustrated depiction of the world of animals, plants, and people. The five volumes about the world of animals, with the title of Historia Naturalis Animalium, was printed from 1650 to 1653 in the publishing house of Matthäus Merian the Younger, who had taken over the famous atelier of his father Matthäus Merian the Elder, in Frankfurt am Main. He was also responsible as a copperplate engraver as well as for the artistic design of the editions. He learned his craft from such famous names as Joachim von Sandrart and Anthonis van Dyck. The marvelous illustrations, colorfully illustrated moreover, lend the sophisticated publication its final touches and are surely a reason for the exceptional popularity of the Historia Naturalis across Europe.

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