Merian, Maria Sibylla, and Daniel Rabel
- Histoire générale des insectes de Surinam et de toute l'Europe, contenant leurs descriptions, leurs figures, leurs differents metamorphoses … Troisieme edition, revue, corrigée, & considérablement augumenté par M. Buc'hoz. Paris: L. C. Desnos, 1771
- paper, ink, leather
3 volumes, folio (20 x 13 in.; 508 x 330 mm). Binding: Modern mottled calf, spines gilt in seven compartments, morocco lettering-pieces on spines, edges gilt, marbled endpapers. Provenance: Michael J. Kuse (Sotheby's New York, 20 June 2003, lot 17).
Some minor spotting and soiling in the first two volumes, first plate in first volume closely trimmed, one text leaf in first volume with skillful repairs in margin, marginal dampstaining on first few leaves of second volume. Minimal wear to extremities of binding.
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Although the two Merian works included here are the more celebrated, it is Daniel Rabel's contribution which is rarest and most extraordinary. In fact, volume III of the present work can be seen as a fourth edition of Rabel's Theatrum floræ, with all 69 plates from the first three editions. Unlike the first three editions, in which the plates are usually found uncolored, here the plates are all handcolored with great sensitivity. The plates do, however, appear here without their captions; and the text has been supplied by Buc'hoz. "Daniel Rabel preceded Nicholas Robert by several years, and both are considered among the finest of the early flower painters. Blunt speaks of an album of Rabel's drawings as 'one of the miracles of early flower painting', though he feels that these engraved reproductions do not do them full justice. Scurry and Malherbe both sang poetic praises of Rabel's work, and it is curious that from that period on he appears to have been overlooked. He has been recognized as a person of note recently; Blunt devotes several pages to a most interesting commentary on his work" (Hunt).
The first two volumes represent the third edition of Maria Sibylla Merian's immensely and justifiably popular works on the insects and plants of Surinam and Europe. Much has been written about the journey made by Merian and her daughter Dorothea to the Dutch colony in order to study the metamorphosis of the insects she found there. They stayed in the colony from 1699 to 1701, studying and painting its insects, animals, and plants. The pair returned to Amsterdam and Merian issued her great work on Surinam in 1705. Natalie Zemon Davis has written, "'The most beautiful work ever painted in America', naturalists had said about her vellums, and this beauty carried over into the printed edition. Here her chacteristic way of showing nature's processes and relationships—the origin and transformation of insects, and the food on which their larvæ lived—was applied to creatures and plants that were strange or unknown to people in Europe: cassava, batatas, sweet sop, oil tree, pawpaw, and some for which even the Amerindians of Surinam had no names. Here New World insects, which had been granted only a few pages in the great Marcgraf nature studies of Brazil, were at center stage, observed by a knowing eye, and described by someone in close contact with scientific communities in Europe. … The overall narrative strategy was … an aesthetic one, here artfully moving the European reader back and forth between the familiar and the strange. The opening plate of the already known pineapple and the surprisingly huge cockroach evoked the distinctive sweetness and destructiveness of America. The text for the last plate reminded the reader how much there was still to learn: 'In January 1701 I set out into the forest of Surinam to see what I could discover. Searching about, I found this graceful red blossom in a tree; neither the name nor the qualities of this tree are known to the inhabitants of the country. Here I came upon a beautiful and very large red caterpillar with three blue beads on each segment and a black feather protruding from each of the beads.' It had an extremely strange chrysalis, but the butterfly that emerged was like the Great Atlas seen in Holland" (from "Metamorphoses—Maria Sibylla Merian," in Maria Sibylla Merian, 1647–1717, Artist and Naturalist, ed. by Kurt Wettengl).
The plates for this work and Merian's other work on the plants and insects of Europe were apparently secured by Desnos at a Paris auction of the collection of "Un Curieux de Paris." It is believed that the anonymous consignor had obtained the plates many years earlier in Amsterdam.