A number of years ago, I discovered that the Smithsonian Institution Libraries have a very nice collection of digital resources that include scanned artwork and electronic versions of rare books. One such gem is Ornithologie, which was published sometime in the late 18th century. It contains 174 hand colored engraved bird illustrations that were produced between 1773-1792 by François Nicolas Martinet and possibly some of his relatives. Here is a description of the book taken from the Smithsonian’s introduction:
“The engravings in this work are delicately drawn and radiantly colored; SIL’s copy is printed on a fine blue paper that softens contrasts and creates an effect of sky behind the birds. Most of the plates follow the conventional style that Martinet used in his illustrations for scientific works, positioning perching birds on tree branches and others on rocks or grassy hummocks, but several of the most attractive plates here include a fuller treatment of the background, providing a familiar environment for the species, and some contain a purely decorative element such as a silk banner or a hanging scroll carrying the French name of the bird. Overall, the images in this work represent a high point in the history of ornithological illustration, precisely and accurately depicting a wide variety of birds both common and exotic, while also succeeding as decorative art meant for the appreciation of a public (albeit wealthy) audience.”
This image is of “La Spatule D’Amerique” – the American spoonbill. I believe that this bird is now known as the roseate spoonbill. In 7th grade art class I created a linoleum carving of this bird, and I wonder if I actually used this image to draw it – it looks very familiar to me. It would be fun to find that bit of artwork in my parents’ basement sometime…

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