Birds of Paradise, Paradisaeidae

Albertus Seba1734

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria

Though the artist of this print is unknown, the bird of paradise speciemens were curiosities that would have been brought back to Amsterdam from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) or from the Moluccas. Birds of paradise are elusive and beautiful birds with elegant and colourful plumage. Here they appear on one of the 175 double-paged illustrations commissioned by Seba.One of at least ten artists working for Seba during this period was responsible for drawing the birds and for transferring them to the copperplate for etching. Among the artists most likely to have produced the Opossum were J. Fortuyn (born in The Hague) or his assistants. Other possibilities include P. Tanje, Adolf van der Laan, Frans. de Bakker, A. van Buysen, De la Croix, J. Folkema, W. Jongman, F. (Morellon) de la Cave, K. Putter, and J. Punt. The artist etched the drawing with precision to produce black and white plates. The plate was printed on linen rag paper.Artists were commissioned by Albertus Seba to draw from his collection of curiosities. Apart from a few anomalies, for example the seven-headed hydra, the drawings were of real specimens and a meticulous scientific approach was expected of the artist. In line with the practice of the early 18th century there is an element of the exotic to the plates, and, at times, unrelated specimens are placed together for dramatic effect. Seba had an artistic eye and was directly involved in the arrangement of the elements on the page.Wealthier members of society could have their copy of the Thesaurus painted by a hand-colourist, as is shown here. Hand-colouring was also a valuable way of differentiating the specimens, as Seba's text did not always allude to colour. The beautiful artwork was accompanied with a written description by Seba, this text being produced in collaboration with important scientists of the time. The result is one of the 18th century's most outstanding works on natural history.

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  • Title: Birds of Paradise, Paradisaeidae
  • Creator: Albertus Seba
  • Date Created: 1734
  • Physical Dimensions: w660 x h535 mm
  • Type: Image
  • Rights: Copyright expired: Source Museum Victoria / Artist unknown, Copyright expired: Source Museum Victoria / Artist unknown
  • External Link: Museum Victoria
  • Medium: Etching; Ink on Paper
  • Themes: Artistic Practices, Scientific Research, Natural History, Printing, Sciences, Illustrations
  • Artist biography: The names of the artists responsible for the individual drawings, etchings and hand-colouring of this work remains unknown. In the absence of known artists, Albertus Seba, with his moderate artistic ability and direct involvement in the aesthetic placing of objects on the page, is listed here as the artist.Born 12 May 1665 in the East Frisian town of Etzel in modern-day Germany, Seba later moved to Amsterdam and established himself as an apothecary.By the time Seba published the first volume of his major scientific work in 1734 he was also well-known as a collector and researcher of natural history objects. These were brought back to Amsterdam via the extensive trading network of the Dutch in both the East and West Indies. He himself was a wealthy member of the Dutch East India Company and benefited from Amsterdam being a central port for European overseas trade.Seba established a relationship with the Russian Court, to which he delivered drugs. In 1716, Peter the Great bought Seba's first collection and added it to his Kunstkammer in St. Petersburg.The work depicted here is from 'Loccupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descripta' (also known as the Thesaurus) and is from Seba's second, more extensive collection which was used by scientists in their research. Among this group of scientists was the young Carl Linnaeus. The artists employed by Seba were influenced by Dutch artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, whose works on the insects of Europe and Surinam were completed earlier in the eighteenth century. Merian was a visitor to Seba’s house and studied his collection.Albertus Seba died 2 May 1736 in Amsterdam.
  • Artist: Albertus Seba