First edition. Two octavo volumes bound in fours (pages 190 x 152 mm). Each volume with engraved title-page and 50 engraved or etched plates by Merian (pll. 8, XXV and XLIV with hand-coloring; pl. 8 on heavier but similar paper). Late 18th or early19th century tan quarter sheep and paper-covered boards, all edges trimmed and stained carmine. Printed incisively on fine laid paper. Collates v. 1: [1 l.], 1 l. (engraved title), vi, 1-102, 8 pp., [1 l.], plus 50 ll. plates printed rectos only; v. 2: [1 l.], 1 l. (engraved title), vi, 1-100, 4 pp., [1 l.], plus 50 ll. plates printed rectos only. Rebacked preserving major portions of original spines, covers rubbed, tips of corners renewed, the book blocks tight and sound, mild spotting at ends and margins, occasional pale browning or stains, overall in very good condition, in a custom clamshell box in complementary quarter brown calf with gilt lettering and natural Cave paper covering.
Each of the engraved (some etched) plates is followed by a leaf of commentary describing the insect with its natural habitat or plant-food. The set is extant in colored and uncolored versions, some colored by Merian and her daughters, and the present example has three colored plates. (Plate 8, Dandelion and early thorn, colored in this example, is on heavier stock with the same laid line spacing, color and tooth as the stock used throughout this set.) We have located sets in only six institutions in North America (complete world census available upon request).
In this remarkable first work devoted to the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, years in the making, Maria Sibilla Merian flourishes as artist and engraver, naturalist and investigator, author, book designer and publisher. Merian's scope, astounding as it may seem, is firmly rooted in her antecedents. Her father, Matthäus Merian the Elder, whom she lost at age three but honors prominently on her title pages, was an accomplished engraver and prolific book publisher, the son-in-law of the legendary Johann Theodor de Bry. Her step-father, Jacob Marrel, had been an apprentice of Georg Flegel and pupil of Jan Davidsz. de Heem. And she matured in the age of great naturalist engraved books, including de Bry's Florilegium novum, Jacob Hoefnagel's Archtypa after his father Joris, and Nicolas Robert's Diverses Fleurs. In all, she was an avatar of the golden age of the kuntskammer and cabinet of curiosities, her productions highly prized by contemporary collectors.
Grässe, Johann Georg Theodor, Trésor de livres rares et précieux; ou, Nouveau dictionnaire bibliographique, Dresden: R. Kuntze, 1859-69, IV, 496.
Nissen, Claus, Die botanische Buchillustration, Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1951, v. I, pp. 85-86; v. II, no. 1342, p. 123.
Wettengl, Kurt, ed., Maria Sibylla Merian, 1647-1717: artist and naturalist, Ostfildern: Verlag Gerde Hatje, 1998, no. 37, pp. 103-4, and nos. 65 and 66, pp. 122, 124.
F.W. Hoffmann, Erlangen, ownership inscriptions on front free endpapers dated 3 May 1804;
Hilde Wittgenstein, widow of pianist Paul Wittgenstein (brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), who left, largely through her husband and to him from his father Karl Wittgenstein, a fine collection centered on art, architecture, natural history and Viennese views and maps.