Originals

January 26, 2013

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The Grolier Club in Manhattan is an old society of bibliophiles that occupies a remodeled townhouse in midtown.  I don’t know what their daily business is, but they put on some wonderful free exhibits, including one on Wunderkammers that closes soon.

These ‘rooms of wonder’ were the forerunners of our museums, particularly museums of natural history, and the exhibit documents their place in the Europe of the Enlightenment.  It also includes two color volumes from the catalog of Albertus Seba’s collection, perhaps the most magnificent such publication.  I have a copy of the one-volume Taschen full-size facsimile of the book, and it is a favorite of mine:  I never tire of paging through it.  The alligator below is from the facsimile; the original is on display at the Grolier.  Always wonderful to see the real thing.

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By chance, a second, upstairs exhibit began the day I was there, and it illustrated the history of microscopy, mostly with printed matter, but a few antique microscopes were also on display.  There was a beautiful copy of Robert Hooke’s seminal publication on display, opened to his most famous illustration, a large-scale drawing of a flea.  I have a copy of the book as a high quality Adobe PDF which has the advantage of letting me page through it in its entirety.  What a shock of recognition and revelation this book must have been to the fortunate few who read it in the 17th century!

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Lizards!

March 8, 2012

After seeing the Tegu by Maria Sibylla Merian at The Morgan Library & Museum the other day, I was gripped by an acquisitive frenzy, and went off to Argosy Books in Manhattan in search of representations of lizards.  Ms. Merian’s prints fetch upwards of $3,000 – the Tegu goes for over $8,000 where I’ve seen it – so I settled for a charming plate by her father, part of large publication on natural history, available in full, online here.  Click the print for a large image of the plate at top.


Not-Quite-Lost Fish

August 18, 2011

I’ve always liked fishmarkets, so I was a cinch for this book when I saw it at our hotel on Shelter Island.  The illustrations are beautiful color reproductions of prints from Comte De Lacépède’s natural history of fish, and it includes a brief snippet of his writing.  The shapes of fish are fascinating to me, and measuring the discrepancy between what we suspect is the reality and the artistically arranged images on the page is part of the charm of it.

The title, however, refers to the usual grim, apocalyptic, man-is-sinful and an industrialist schtick that has become spiritual dogma among the ‘educated’.  I would not comment on it except that the text itself indicates that of the nearly 200 fishes shown in the book, about twenty are listed as endangered, threatened, or seriously threatened.  Not even extinct!  And that’s only 10% of this small sample of fish that were known in the 1830s.  Not a very strong piece of evidence for environmental catastrophe, Al Gore’s flypage quotation notwithstanding.  Being on the bandwagon sells books.

Another favorite natural history compendium here.