Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

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Codiology

Type
Extent / Format

268 pages / 38.0 x 22.0 cm

Origin
Date
1653
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

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

Illustrations

28 copperplate engravings

Short description

The Historia naturalis animalium, written by the Polish Renaissance man John Jonston in the mid- 17th century, was long considered to be the standard work of zoology in Europe. This “most broadly disseminated zoological handbook” experienced numerous republications and translations into other languages. The encyclopedic overview work about the history of animals assembles numerous descriptions of animals in five books. Tables with wonderful copperplate engravings by Matthäus Merian the Younger illustrate the zoological work. One volume of the series concerns itself with the Historia naturalis de exanguibus acuaticis et serpentibus, so with bloodless aquatic animals, snakes, and reptiles. As a part of the zoology of John Jonston, the book simultaneously offers a scientific and entertaining overview of insects up to the present.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

The Historia naturalis animalium, written by the Polish Renaissance man John Jonston in the mid- 17th century, was long considered to be the standard work of zoology in Europe. This “most broadly disseminated zoological handbook” experienced numerous republications and translations into other languages. The encyclopedic overview work about the history of animals assembles numerous descriptions of animals in five books. Tables with wonderful copperplate engravings by Matthäus Merian the Younger illustrate the zoological work. One volume of the series concerns itself with the Historia naturalis de exanguibus acuaticis et serpentibus, so with bloodless aquatic animals, snakes, and reptiles. As a part of the zoology of John Jonston, the book simultaneously offers a scientific and entertaining overview of insects up to the present.

The Renaissance Man John Jonston

John Jonston (1603-1675) was the son of Scottish parents, a doctor, and a Renaissance man from Poland. Through tours and visits of study across all of Europe, John collected a general knowledge that encompassed a variety of disciplines, which he transmitted as a tutor and tour guide to young nobles. He was famous nevertheless through his scientific-pedagogical writings concerning such diverse topics as child-rearing, philosophy and theology, history, but also medicine and mineralogy, all before the famous five-volume Historia Naturalis. Jonston did not want to write down any new knowledge, but rather to spread preexisting knowledge. Therefore, he drew on sources from ancient and contemporary authors and collected his findings in an encyclopedic work.

Standard Work of Zoology

For his incomplete magnum opus, Jonston planned a comprehensive illustrated depiction of the world of animals, plants, and people. The Historia Naturalis Animalium was printed from 1650 to 1653 in five volumes: de Piscibus et Cetis, de Exanguibus Acquaticis, de Avibus, de Quadrupedibus, and finally de Insectis and Serpentibus et Draconibus. Matthäus Merian the Younger (1621-1687), who learned from Joachim von Sandrart and Anthonis van Dyck, was involved as a copperplate engraver and publisher of the edition. He undertook the artistic design of the editions on behalf of John Jonston and published the series in the famous Frankfurt atelier of his father, Matthäus Merian the Elder, which he had taken over. The marvelous illustrations, colorfully illustrated moreover, lend the sophisticated publication its final touches.

Colorful Butterflies and Shimmering Beetles

In the book with an overview of insects, Jonston collected 28 tables with copperplate engravings on 268 pages. The work is divided in turn into several chapters. Jonston distinguished between insects of the earth, some with both feet and wings, some with feet but no wings, and finally water insects. Butterflies and caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and other small animals colonize the gorgeous tables in all colors and shapes. Curiously, sea stars are also listed among the water insects. The memorable illustrations of high artistic quality along with the detailed text were surely reasons for the exceptional popularity of the Historia Naturlis across Europe.

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