Paris: printed at the Imprimerie Royale, 1770-1786.
These spectacular engravings are from the most important and comprehensive late eighteenth-century French ornithological work produced. The Count of Buffon's monumental Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux comprises 1,008 hand-colored prints of birds from both Europe and the Tropics. Each bird is surrounded by a vibrant yellow border, allowing each specimen to stand out from the page.
Georges-Louis Marie Leclerc, the Count of Buffon, was born into an aristocratic family and from an early age showed a great disposition for mathematics and natural history. Although his father initially encouraged him to pursue the law, his young son's aptitude for science persuaded him of Buffon's assured success in this field. By the age of twenty Buffon had discovered the binomial theorem and later introduced differential and integral calculus into probability theory. A fascination with biological science soon followed and Buffon enrolled in the faculty of medicine to study botany and zoology. At age twenty-seven Georges-Louis Marie Leclerc was admitted to the prestigious Academy of Science.
Buffon's Histoire Naturelle was his major achievement and in its 44 volumes he attempted 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, decades before Darwin introduced his theory of evolution. The engraved illustrations are the work of François Nicolas Martinet who was primarily employed at the French court 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. He also produced illustrations for plays or comic operas by such contemporaries as Marmontel, Voltaire and Philidor.