Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

Frankfurt (Germany) or Amsterdam (Netherlands) — 1653

An encyclopedia with fascinating copperplate engravings by Matthäus Merian: Johnston's main work of the early modern period on insects

  1. John Jonston's encyclopedia (1603–1675) was the primary work of zoology and botany in his day

  2. The Polish doctor and Renaissance man wanted to compile the knowledge of the world, and order it

  3. Jonston's 28 tables with copperplate engravings y Matthäus Merian the Younger (1621–87) distinguished between insects of different types

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
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.

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 Naturalis across Europe.

Codicology

Size / Format
268 pages / 38.0 × 22.0 cm
Origin
Germany
Date
1653
Language
Illustrations
28 copperplate engravings
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Historia Naturalis: De Insectis – Private Collection
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2010
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Detail Picture

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

Butterflies

Labelled “papillons” in French, this colorful collection of butterflies large and small exhibits a wide range of colors and patterns while maintaining a natural and realistic appearance. Butterflies have been depicted in art for thousands of years and are symbolically significant in various cultures: in Japan they represent the personification of a person’s soul, the word for butterfly in ancient Greek also came from the word “soul”, and in many cultures they symbolize rebirth.

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis
Single Page

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

Title Page

This splendidly designed page presents the title of the manuscript framed by two serpents, a flying beetle, and a large butterfly with spread wings. A wild rose bush grows on the left and a symmetrical beehive stands to the right. Flying insects such as dragonflies fill the sky, one of which has been caught in a spider’s web that does not appear to be attached to anything.

In the foreground, one’s eyes are first drawn to the great black void in the center that is an enormous rhinoceros beetle that walks among green grasshoppers, a tiny yellow scorpion, a centipede, a millipede, a worm, a blue moth, and four slugs. The signature of the engraver, Matthaeus Merian the Younger, appears in the lower right corner of the page.

Historia Naturalis: De Insectis
Facsimile Editions

#1 Historia Naturalis: De Insectis

Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2010
Historia Naturalis: De Insectis – Private Collection
Historia Naturalis: De Insectis – Private Collection Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2010
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Binding: Leather
Commentary: 1 volume
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
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