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Jean Théodore Descourtilz (1796-1855)

Plates from Ornithologie Bresilienne...
Chromolithographs finished by hand
London: Thomas Reeves, 1852-1856
These splendid, large-scale images are from the rarest bird book to be devoted to the Americas, Jean Théodore Descourtilz's fundamental, systematic treatise on the birds of Brazil.  A native of France, Descourtilz emigrated to South America and found work in the National Museum at Rio de Janeiro.  It was there that he was inspired to embark on the compilation of his monumental publication.  In the Ornithologie Bresilienne, the artist depicted and described 168 species of tropical birds, including fifteen new species and one new genus.  Descourtilz's magnificent plates of hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers, parakeets, and other tropical birds are among the most striking and animated ornithological works ever produced.  Each plate shows the birds depicted against their natural surroundings of beautiful flowers, fruits, and butterflies, in addition to foliage.  This ecological view distinguishes Descourtilz among the naturalists of his period, but by no means can his images be relegated simply to the realm of science; the color and vibrancy with which he endows his birds make them some of the most memorable ornithological illustrations.