First edition of an uncommon work illustrating many exotic animals. A work remarkable for including the first pictorial representation of the American black bear.
The Menagerie, linked with the National Museum of Natural History, was established in 1793, after the French Revolution, and replaced the Royal Menagerie at Versailles. Up until this time menageries had usually been of the touring sort, displaying exotic species as curiosities, often with scant regard to their well-being. The success of the new menagerie was secured when travelling menageries were banned, thus driving people to visit the new establishment. Amongst the notable acquisitions of the menagerie was the elephant pair from the menagerie of ‘Het Loo’, seized by French forces from the Stadtholder of Holland, Willem V, in 1798.
In a period of about 40 years after the difficult times of the Revolution, several construction projects were completed. These included the monkey and bird house, the bear pits, the rotunda (La Rotonde) for large herbivores (elephant and giraffe), the building for ferocious animals (the Fauverie), a new monkey house and a vivarium. Many of them still exist to date, with La Rotonde commissioned by Napoleon himself being the menagerie’s oldest building, designed to replicate the cross of the Napoleonic Legion of Honour, now housing giant tortoises. Driving forces behind this major refurbishment were Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who ran the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes from 1802 – 1841, and Frédéric Cuvier (1769-1832), became warden of the menagerie in 1803.
The renowned natural historians Lacépède (1756-1825) and Cuvier compiled the present catalogue of the animals in the menagerie and Nicolas Maréchal (died 1803), the museum’s painter, provided the illustrations.
The work is of considerable historical and scientific interest, summarizing the knowledge of the time and comparing also various earlier sources, especially Buffon.
The work was published in issues during troubled times, and such events as Geoffroy’s participation in the Egypt expedition, the death of the painter Marechal and Cuvier’s travels have resulted in the collation varying from copy to copy. Nissen in fact calls for only 38 plates. The plate of the Rhesus Macaque is normally missing because of lack of time on the part of the author Geoffroy. The delivery of this quire was postponed three times, as mentioned on the title-pieces of the 8th-10th issue, after the last of which publication ceased altogether. Copies with this plate were probably assembled at a later date.
Folio (51.5 x 35 cm). Title, 9 pp. introduction, 36 chapters on 162 numbered pp. of text with 41 plates (of a possible 42) engraved by Miger after Marechal and Dewailly (de Wailly), tissue guards, some blank leaves; ink number (library?) to title, plate of Le Blanc-Nez monkey spotted, light occasional spotting elsewhere, one text page (Lama) with old marginal repairs, without the last and long delayed plate Rhesus Macaque (as usual). Near contemporary calf, wide gilt borders to covers; rubbed at extremities, restored and rebacked to style.
Brunet III, 725; Nissen, ZBI 2353 (38 pl.; also mistakenly attributing only the introduction to Lacepede); Landon, Nouvelles des arts […], an XII-1803, III, 46. Not traced in the Blacker-Wood Library, McGill University.
Stock ID: 85642