Friday, October 12, 2012

Authors and Illustrators of Bird Books. Pt III: Jean-Baptiste Audebert

Well he was French and he died in 1800 so it’s not much of a surprise if he’s slipped under your radar. Jean-Baptiste was born in 1759 in Rochefort and died in Paris aged just 41. He started his career as a miniature painter; he wasn’t very small, he painted very small portraits! The only publication of his own work to be completed during his life-time, which was published in ten parts between 1797 and 1800 wasHistoire naturelle des singes’, - A Natural History of Monkeys. This was illustrated by sixty-two folio plates, drawn and engraved by himself. The coloring in these plates was unusually beautiful, and was applied by a method devised by himself.
From a birder’s perspective it would be the two volumes of exquisite plates published in 1802 – after he had died – that provide most interest. The first published as a large folio measuring 51cm x 33.5cm is: ‘Histoire naturelle et generale des Coliris, Oiseauxmouches, Jacamars et Promerops.’ That’s Hummingbirds, Jacamars and Sugarbirds I suspect.

Plate 22 Vol 1
Plate 35 Vol 1

The second ‘Histoire naturelle et generale des Grimpereaux et des Oiseaux de Paradis.’ (Creepers and Birds of Paradise) was published in large 4to format, about 30.5cm x 24cm, and contained 105 plates.
Both of these were combined into one volume: ‘Oiseaux Dores Ou A Reflets Metalliques.’  I think that translates as something like ‘Birds with shiny metal reflections.’ You can see why he chose Hummers and Birds of Paradise – although Starlings would have been good.

The 190 plates were engraved by Audebert, printed in colours, including gold, by a method invented by Audebert in which he printed lines of gold and silver over the painted colours of the birds to give them a metallic sheen imitating the iridescent colours of nature. Clever stuff!
But here’s the really interesting bit: The letterpress under the plates was printed in gold in the folio edition. Twelve copies were issued with the complete text printed in gold and one copy was printed in gold on vellum. Who’s got that? Where is it?

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