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Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces

Date: 1789
Overall: 335 x 407 mm, 240 g
Medium: Ink on paper, mylar, card
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00019669
Place Manufactured:France

User Terms

    This print depicts a side view of two baleen whales spouting water from their blow holes. The female whale is is labelled 'Le Roqual' and the male as 'La Jubarte'. The whales are open-mouthed displaying their baleen plates. Included are illustrations of whale ribs with a scale alongside and descriptions written in French.
    SignificanceThis print is an important record of late 18th century European natural history illustrations, and demonstrates the unfolding scientific knowledge of whales.
    HistoryEuropean scientific knowledge of whales was a slowly evolving process. Whales were commonly sighted along the European coasts and occasionally seen stranded, however early published illustrations of the animal show a mythical monster-like creature - sometimes depicted with horns spouting water. Many artists did not draw from life, using descriptions given by explorers, scientists and publishers. Many of their works were copied from earlier drawings and offered only slightly different interpretations of the previous studies. The rise of the natural sciences in the 18th century saw a shift from mythical to scientific depictions of whales.

    The late 18th century European voyages of discovery pushed beyond the existing fringes of European settlement, and explored unknown lands beyond established sea routes. These voyages excited the scientific community with the documentation of exotic or previously unknown species. Naturalists, landscape artists, natural history artists and field assistants accompanied explorers on these voyages. The artists produced thousands of sketches and paintings of both plants and animals, from sea and land.

    As a result of these explorations, there was an enormous increase in the publication of scientific writings describing the animals and plants encountered on the voyages. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries numerous comprehensive and beautifully illustrated natural history compilations were published in Europe.

    One of those was the French publication 'The Tableau Encyclopédique et Méthodique des trois Regnes de la Nature' which was an illustrated encyclopedia of plants, animals and minerals. It was issued in several separate volumes by a number of contributors, and was published in Paris by Charles Joseph Panckoucke (who also published the 'Encyclopédie méthodique par ordre des matières'.)

    A volume on whales was published in 1789 titled 'The Tableau Encyclopédique et Méthodique des trois Regnes de la Nature: Cétologie' compiled by the renowned French Naturalist Abbé Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre (1725-1804). His work became the most respected scientific authority on whales at the time and featured detailed anatomical illustrations by the master engraver Robert Bénard.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces

    Web title: Histoire Naturelle, Cetaces

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