METAMORPHOSIS INSECTORUM SURINAMENSIUM
This book caused a Europe-wide sensation when first published in 1705. Nothing like it had been seen before and certainly prior to its publication no one had taken the trouble properly to examine insect specimens and record them accurately. It set the standard for entomological illustration for next 120 years until the advent of John Curtis's British Entomology (see below). Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium was the result of a two year journey, commencing in 1699, to Surinam by Maria and her daughter Dorothea. They went at the invitation of the Governor General with their expenses funded by a grant from the City of Amsterdam.
Maria's poor health (malaria) forced their return to Amsterdam in early 1701, where they completed work on the text and 60 illustrations. Maria oversaw the entire printing and publication process from start to finish. She and her daughter, Dorothea coloured the engravings themselves, but neither was an experienced colourist and the work fell short of the highest standards of the day. A good proportion of the restoration work has been devoted to reducing the effects of their somewhat clumsy application of colour which is evident throughout the publication.
The original watercolours (on vellum) in the British Royal Collection have provided a valuable reference in respect of the colours of the more obscure insects. Being on vellum these images have not discoloured to the same extent as other contemporary works on paper and, apart from one or two extreme cases of obvious colour change (some leaves now showing as bright blue for example), they provide indisputable evidence of the brightness of colour that prevailed when these prints were originally published.
These original watercolours are the same size as the engraved print plates, 14 x 10½ inches, but are laterally inverted (mirror imaged), indicating that a tracing-transfer method of engraving was used. The first edition prints are on sheets usually bound and trimmed to approximately 19 x 13 inches. Complete original copies of the first edition are extremely rare and very much sought after by collectors and museums. We are very fortunate in having had unrestricted access to one of the finest complete, surviving copies.
Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Frankfurt in 1647, the daughter of a Swiss engraver, Mattheus Merian. Her father died in 1650, soon after which her mother married Jacob Marrell, a successful painter of flowers. Her step-father fostered Maria's interest in entomology and in particular the life cycles and metamorphosis of moths and butterflies. The general belief at the time was that months and butterflies spontaneously generated from fermenting mud and were, therefore, "dirty" and not worthy of investigation. In 1675 Maria published her first book, Neues Blumenbuch (New Book of Flowers) . Her full life story is readily available in the public domain, so enough said here other than that she died in January 1717 at the age of 69
ENTOMOLOGY: BEING ILLUSTRATIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS
This superb publication is without doubt the finest 19th century work on the subject and probably the finest such work ever produced. Publishedin 16 volumes by monthly parts from 1823 to 1840. The initial list of subscribers was just 103 strong. It was, and still is, universally acknowledged as being a masterpiece of the engravers' and colourists' art; described by the eminent French naturalist Georges Cuvier as the "paragon of perfection". One only has to look at a single illustration drawn at random from the work to appreciate the exquisitely accurate detail and fine rendering (example). This is due in large part to the particularly fine "Rye Mill" paper used for the illustrations. The copper-plate engraved and hand-coloured plates are just 8 x 5 ¾ inches (202 x 146 mm) in size with the limbs of many of the insects being less than 1/32nd inch (0.8mm) across yet all are precisely and accurately coloured and finished. Because of this extreme accuracy the prints are all provided at greater than life size (approximately 150%) so that their fine detail can easily be seen without the use of a loupe (magnifying glass) with the option of life-size if preferred.
Comprising 770 plates and descriptions, with many of the species described for the first time, each complete with its associated or an appropriate plant also accurately rendered in the finest possible detail. The outstanding quality of the prints made them a prized target for uncaring print dealers and collectors to the extent that very few copies of the work remain intact today. One of the very rare complete survivors(1) has been made unconditionally available to us and so it is intended to offer a broad range of plates from these superb volumes.. Requests for particular plates are encouraged. The associated technical and anecdotal text will also be made available for downloading from these pages. As the majority of plates also include an exquisitely rendered plant, the more attractive of these are available as separate, plant-only prints or plant and insect prints (less the technical line drawings) via the Flora gallery.
The original paintings, 778 in total, were considered to be so important that they were purchased by Lord Rothschild who then donated them to the Natural History Museum ("NHM") in London where they remain to this day. These original watercolour images are available on the NHM website but surprisingly the NHM has incorrectly catalogued them under "Botanical", possibly in the mistaken belief that they were produced for Curtis's Botanical Magazine (by an unrelated author, William Curtis). The Smithsonian Institution Library has very generously elected to make their copy available on-line. Sadly, their copy is not in prime condition, exhibiting extensive text off-set, ink creep and shade blocking to most images (damp storage in the past, perhaps). It has also been incorrectly bound - partly by plate number, partly by date of issue and sometimes by collection making it very difficult to find specific plates. Some plates appear to be missing, e.g. Plate 326 with its splendid illustration of a Snakeshead Fritillary.
Curtis's 1835 notes to his customers and their book binders make an interesting diversion:
We have come to the conclusion, from the stunning quality of the original volumes from which we have extracted our resource images, that we are working from one of the four proof sets mentioned above. As an example of the supreme quality, an un-restored 12Mpx., example is available as a free download from here.
Short biography(2): John Curtis was born in Norwich, England in 1791, the son of an engraver (father) and horticulturalist (mother), he initially joined a local law firm but soon his main interest in entomology took control and had him supplementing his income by collecting insect specimens for wealthy collectors. At the same time he developed his extra-ordinary artistic talent, encouraged by his father who also taught him copper-plate engraving. His stay with the law firm was short-lived as he was soon able to put his training and talents to good use illustrating the best selling Introduction to Entomology by Kirby and Spence (published 1815-26). He could then afford to move to London where he quickly became acquainted with the leading naturalists of the day. Soon afterwards he commenced his main work, British Entomology. His reputation by this time being sufficient to enable him to attract over 100 wealthy subscribers (rising to 193 for the final volume) giving him sufficient financial resources to complete the entire engraving, printing and publishing process in his own name. He had a troubled relationship with the the natural history establishment whom he thought to be petty-minded and obstructive. Nevertheless, he published his enormous Guide to the Arrangement of British Insects in 1829 and Farm Insects in 1860. The Guide catalogued and scientifically described 10,000 insects and was a landmark of scientific endeavour.
He was a member of the Linnean Society from 1822 to 1833 and was president of the Royal Entomological Society of London for two years commencing 1855. His dedication to minute detail had a profound effect upon his eyesight in later life, to the extent that for the last six years he was completely blind. He was granted a civil list pension of £100 for his major contribution to the study of agricultural pests. This was later raised to £150 when his eyesight failed him completely. He lived out his last years at Belitha Villas, Islington, London as a "Gentleman Annuitant" attended by his wife Matilda (Née Durrant) whom he married in Norwich in 1839, she was 30 years his junior.
(1) After extensive research going
back more than 30 years, we have only been able to discover eight complete sets in
public and private hands, the last of which only came to light in October 2012.
THE NATURALIST'S LIBRARY:
- British butterflies
The Naturalist's Library was the brain-child of William Jardine, an amateur naturalist who, conveniently, was also of independent means by way of being a Scottish baron. The concept was that of a library comprising a series of small, affordable books to describe the natural world in semi-scientific terms readily understandable by an educated lay person. Each volume to be lavishly illustrated by the finest wildlife artists of the day with the plates presented in full colour. No mean objective when considering that the entire work eventually comprised some 1,300 individual illustrations, each of which was to be hand-coloured.
Jardine engaged Lizars, the Edinburgh and London printers and publishers together with a select group of professional artists that included Edward Lear, James Duncan and others of similar merit. The books are small, octavo with pages just 7¼ by 5 inches, necessitating some extraordinarily detailed and precise artwork and colouring. Lizars was well up to the job and the books sold extremely well. Inevitably there was some cost-cutting and this is most obvious in the way that many of the pigments used in the illustrations have now lost saturation and changed to completely unexpected tones. Unfortunately, good quality paper was extremely expensive in the first half of the 19th Century and so whilst of reasonable quality the pages were not really large enough to accommodate many of the images and it is frequently the case that significant portions are missing, trimmed off in the binding process. Fortunately, the later editions suffer to a lesser extent both in terms of image loss and paper quality, so it is from the second edition that our butterfly images have been sourced. Even so, reference to several examples was frequently necessary in order to recreate a complete image.
Forty separate volumes were published over 10 years commencing in 1833. The British Butterflies volume was so much in demand that a Second Edition was published in 1855 using the original plates but with some minor modifications to backgrounds to lessen the losses in binding. The images are often described as engraved but having examined in very close detail over 300 original plates it is quite clear that they were aquatints on steel or more probably steel plated copper. The quality of the hand colouring is beyond reproach. In spite of image detail sometimes bordering on the microscopic, it is rare to find seriously over-coloured areas or missed detail.
We are indebted to Peter Eeles whose superb website www.ukbutterflies.co.uk provided us with an invaluable colour reference resource frequently used in the restoration of these prints.
MICROGRAPHIA OR SOME PHYSIOLOGICAL OBSERVATIONS OF MINUTE BODIES
Robert Hooke was a founder member of the Royal Society, London (in 1660). He was appointed Curator of experiments in November 1661 when aged just 26 years, and it was in this capacity that in 1663 he set about exploring the world of the minute and microscopic making use of a Galileo type of microscope made for him by Christopher Cock of London (now at The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC., USA..).
The Royal Society arranged for his journal to be published with the drawings being copper-plate engraved to the highest standard of the day. Interestingly, some of Hooke's cosmological observations were also included in a book entitled and about microscopy! The book, Micrographia, was published in 1665 and was an immediate best seller. Hooke had investigated everything he could find and place under the lens, from fossils and coal to bluebottle flies and fleas. His descriptions of insect body parts and plants cells set a new standard of scientific description, not least because he wrote in English rather than in Latin thereby making the work accessible to those outside an elitist academia. His cosmological observations were not ground-breaking but they made an interesting diversion to those who easily tired of lice, fleas and flies. The fact is, star-gazing was all the rage in the mid 17th Century and there may have been a certain cynicism in including this subject in a book that might not otherwise have sold so readily.
Surviving copies of Micrographia, like most pre-18th Century paper books, are generally in poor condition with the paper having toned to very deep ochre and the inks having faded and migrated to a great extent. Some of the illustrations were in a fold-out format which inevitably means that over the centuries they have become severely creased, torn, stained and rubbed. Much of the restoration work on both The Blue Fly and The Great Belly'd Gnat was dedicated to removing evidence of these major faults.
All restored images are copyright. All rights reserved.
R e s t o r e d P r i n t s . c o m