François Nicolas Martinet (circa 1725–1804) was an engineer and draftsman who became an engraver and produced illustrations for works by Denis Diderot and Benjamin Franklin and for books by the most influential ornithologists in 18th-century France. Before Martinet, illustrators often depicted birds disproportionately, incorrectly, or in stiff, unnatural poses. Martinet introduced realism to his illustrations, showing how birds appeared in the wild in their natural habits. In the early 1770s, he set out to produce his own plates for a collection entitled Ornithologie: Histoire des Oiseaux, Peints dans Tous Leurs Aspects Apparents et Sensibles. Martinet produced two sets of plates under this title: a two-volume set in folio with more than 200 plates and no text; and a nine-volume set in octavo with 483 plates and with text by him describing the birds. Both editions are extremely rare. Shown here is an incomplete version of the folio edition consisting of 174 plates of illustrations, engraved with etching, colored by hand with watercolor. Each plate has a caption consisting of the bird’s common name in French with additional text. The book is printed on a fine blue cotton paper that softens contrasts and creates an effect of sky behind the birds. Martinet has mostly positioned perching birds on tree branches or on rocks or grassy hummocks, but several of the most attractive plates include a fuller treatment of the background and the bird’s natural environment.

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François Nicolas Martinet, Paris


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174 leaves of plates: color illustrations ; 41 centimeters


  • Also known as Histoire des oiseaux peints dans tous leurs aspects apparents et sensibles

Last updated: September 6, 2017