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Set of  Francois Nicolas Martinet Engravings of Birds,
Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux, (Twelve engravings).

Set of Francois Nicolas Martinet Engravings of Birds,

Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux,

(Twelve engravings),


(Ref: ny8826-purr)

A remarkable set of twelve engravings of birds by the renowned artist Francois Nicholas Martinet. All are within decoupage frames with fruits, flowers, plants and insects.

Dimensions: 16 3/4 inches x 13 3/4 inches



Series of bird prints from the most important and comprehensive late-18th century French ornithological color plate set.  The set includes a broad spectrum of birds both native to Europe, as well as what were seen as more exotic locales in Asia and the Americas. Among the species depicted are hawks, eagles, woodcreepers, blackbirds and woodpeckers, as well as exotic tropical birds such as toucans, spoonbills and turacos.   Each is rendered in a scientific manner, outlined with a yellow border.  They are distinctly 18th-century in conception and style, generally with a hint of the bird’s habitat, such as a tree branch, rock or water.  

They are from Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux, a collection of 1,008 hand colored bird prints edited by Georges-Louis Marie Leclerc, the Count of Buffon.  This was one of two major Buffon works, collectively the most comprehensive French natural history sets of their time.  Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux was published in 42 fascicles from 1765 to 1780 by Edme Louis Daubenton in collaboration with Buffon, illustrated with engravings by Martinet.

Buffon, was a French aristocrat of formidable intellect and achievements, including books on mathematics and natural history. Although his father initially steered him toward law school, Buffon persisted in pursuing his interest in math. At the age of 20, he discovered the binomial theorem and later introduced differential and integral calculus into probability theory. He soon became fascinated with biological science, and his father relented and let him enroll in the faculty of medicine to study botany and zoology. As a young man in Paris, he befriended Voltaire and other intellectuals, and gained admission to the prestigious Academy of Science at age 27.  Decades before Darwin introduced his theory of evolution, Buffon dared to challenge religious thought with empirical observations, suggesting that the earth was older than 6,000 years and that the physical resemblance between humans and apes might be explained by their having a common ancestry. While the theories he proposed to explain these phenomena were by and large incorrect, he correctly grasped that a new paradigm was needed.

Buffon also published a different 44-volume natural history work with various studies, including birds, titled Histoire Naturelle Generale Et Particuliere [Natural History, General and Particular] (Paris, 1749-1804), which included works by various artists including  Jacques Eustache de Sève.  This work was his major achievement and an ambitious project characteristic of the 18th-century Enlightenment: a 44-volume encyclopedia attempting to include everything known about the natural world and widely disseminate scientific knowledge. It was the first complete natural history survey presented in a popular form, and also broke ground in attempting to separate science from theological dogma.

Francois Nicolas Martinet was a French engraver and draughtsman.  In 1756, he was working for the court of France as Graveur du Cabinet du Roi, under the auspices of the Menus Plaisirs du Roi, making engravings after drawings by others of such subjects as the May Ball at Versailles during the Carnival of 1763.  In the same period, Martinet produced illustrations for plays or comic operas by such contemporaries as Marmontel, Voltaire and Philidor.  Some of these he engraved himself, while others were drawn by him but engraved by his sister Thérèse Martinet (born c. 1731).  He is best known for his engravings of birds for Comte de Buffon's, Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux published in Paris from 1770-86.  In 1768, a comprehensive group of natural history studies drafted by Martinet, and engraved by Robert Bénard were included in the natural history volume of Diderot and Alembert’s Encyclopédie.  Martinet also drew and engraved portraits, landscapes and genre scenes.

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