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.

Introduction to a Systematic History of Shelled Animals

Joachim Johann Nepomuk Anton Spalowsky (1752–97) was a veritable polymath in the Austrian Empire of the late 18th century. Little is known of his life, but it is thought that he was of Polish Silesian ancestry. He was a surgeon attached to the civic regiments of Vienna and a member of the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences in Prague. His erudition is evidenced by the range of his publications. His 1777 inaugural dissertation treated poisonous plants and related topics. He went on to write works on shells, birds, and mammals, and even a disquisition on economics and numismatics. Spalowsky’s 1795 treatise on conchology, Prodromus in Systema Historicum Testaceorum (Introduction to a systematic history of shelled animals), is among the rarest of published books on mollusks and other shelled organisms. The work remains of importance for its original descriptions of several new species and varieties. Although Spalowsky intended to write an introduction to all shelled animals, his death in 1797 precluded the publication of a more comprehensive review. The 13 engraved plates are beautifully colored by hand with watercolor and gouache. Gold and silver leaf was applied under the watercolors to capture the iridescent quality of the shells. A descriptive Latin caption heads each plate. The main part of the book is in parallel Latin and German texts, in double columns.

Theater of Instruments and Machines

A new type of book appeared in Europe in the late 16th century, representing a genre of literature known as the “theater of machines.” The first of the theaters was produced by Jacques Besson (circa 1540–73), a French Protestant, born in Grenoble, who worked primarily as a mathematics teacher until royal patronage came his way. In 1559, Besson published a book on extracting oils and waters from simple drugs. His second book, Le Cosmolabe, published in 1567, described an elaborate instrument that could be used for navigation, surveying, cartography, and astronomy. In 1569 King Charles IX appointed Besson “master of the King’s engines.” Before Besson, illustrations of machines had appeared, but they were mainly of current technology or provided limited descriptions of new inventions. Besson began work on a book of designs for a range of instruments and machines that he envisioned could be built. His book was published in 1571–72, with descriptions by Besson and 60 engravings made to Besson’s specifications by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau. The plates depicted measuring and drawing instruments, many later used to produce the original plans for the machines, as well as lathes, stone cutters, sawmills, horse carriages, barrels, dredges, pile drivers, grist mills, hauling machines, cranes, elevators, pumps, salvage machines, nautical propulsion machines, and many others. Following the crackdown on Protestants that began in France in 1572, Besson emigrated to England, where he died in 1573. A new edition of his work appeared in 1578, with more detailed descriptions by François Béroalde de Verville and four replacement engravings by René Boyvin. Shown here is the 1578 edition.

Instruments for the Restoration of Astronomy

Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) was a Danish astronomer who built the best observatory in Europe and set a new standard for accurate celestial observations in the era before the invention of the telescope. His noble birth enabled him to pursue his true interests in the humanities and the sciences, particularly astronomy. He became adept at designing scientific instruments and making observations during his early travels in Europe. Upon his return to Denmark he won favor with King Frederick II, who provided him with monetary support to continue his astronomical researches and gave him the small island of Hven in the Danish straits, where Tycho began construction of his observatory complex. For his observatory, he designed massive instruments with which he hoped to obtain the most accurate observations ever. King Frederick died in 1588, and his successors at the royal court were less supportive of Tycho. In 1597, Tycho left Hven for northern Germany, where he began work on a book intended to be a showcase of his instruments, highlighting their superiority and how they would provide the measurements which would lead to “restored astronomy.” In addition to text, the book featured plans and illustrations of Tycho’s instruments. Tycho completed the work in January 1598, and had 100 copies produced by the Hamburg printer Philip von Ohrs. Tycho dedicated the book to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, in hopes of gaining his patronage. Rudolf enthusiastically took Tycho into his favor and in 1598 provided him with a castle near Prague to further his astronomical work. Tycho’s death in 1601 cut short by his work, and it was left to his assistants, including the great German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), to continue his systematic observations of the planets and stars. Shown here is the 1602 edition of Tycho’s work, produced in Nuremberg by the printer Levinus Hulsius.


Heinrich Neuhaus (1833–87) was a German-born map maker and lithographer who worked in Sweden for many years. His largest and best-known work is this panoramic map of Stockholm, which he created in the 1870s using an oblique image in isometric perspective. The buildings on the map are depicted with remarkable accuracy. Neuhaus is reported to have said that in order to produce the map, he walked through every neighborhood of the city and sketched the exterior of its buildings and other structures. The map captures the rapid growth of Stockholm that was characteristic of major European cities in the second half of the 19th century. Neuhaus made maps in a similarly three-dimensional style of the Stockholm districts of Norrmalm, Sodermalm, and Ostermalm.

Botanical Description of Chiranthodendron

Little is known of José Dionisio Larreátegui other than that he was active in Mexico circa 1795, the date he published his work on the Mexican hand plant for which he is remembered. The late 1700s was a time of intense scientific activity in Mexico, then part of the Spanish Empire. In 1787, King Carlos III authorized a major botanical expedition, the establishment of a botanical garden, and a scientific course of study at the university in Mexico City. Larreátegui, a medical student at the Real y Pontífica Universidad de México, completed the new botany course at the university in 1794. In 1795, he was asked to deliver an address to the course at the opening of the new academic year. He chose as his topic the Linnean system of naming and describing plants, with a description of the Mexican hand plant as an example. His talk was then published under the title Descripciones de Plantas. Larreátegui’s monograph marked the first time that the hand plant was described and given the name Chiranthodendron pentadactylon. The plant is actually a tree, known at the time from a single long-lived specimen in Toluca in the Valley of Mexico, which was revered by the local Indians and used in medicines for pain and inflammation. Larreátegui’s monograph, along with dried specimens of the leaves, flowers, and seedpods of the tree, found their way to France and into the hands of Daniel Lescallier, a French naval and colonial administrator. Lescallier recognized the importance of the plant and published this translation of Larreátegui’s monograph in 1805, giving the author’s name as Joseph-Denis Larréategui.

Qurʼan Carpet Page; al-Fatihah

This folio contains an opening carpet page of a Qurʼan. It is the second of five folios belonging to a dispersed Qurʼan manuscript in the collections of the Library of Congress. Together with another folio, this folio constitutes the double-page illuminated frontispiece of a beautiful, albeit damaged, 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼan. The folio contains the continuation of verses 76–80 of the 56th surah (chapter), al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable), contained in the top and bottom rectangular panels of the double-page illuminated frontispiece. The decorative patterns and palette of this carpet page are typical of 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼans made in Egypt. The verso of the folio contains the first chapter of the Qurʼan, al-Fatihah (The opening). In the top and bottom blue rectangular registers, decorated with interlacing gold vine motifs, appears the title of the surah in now-oxidized white ink. The heading specifies that al-Fatihah was revealed in Medina and has seven verses, (29) words, and 120 letters. The number of words, which would have appeared in the lower right corner of the folio, is now missing. The interest in counting the total number ayahs (verses), words, and letters in various chapters and throughout the Qurʼan not only provided an indexical apparatus for the Holy Book. It also may have served various practices concerned with letter mysticism or the esoteric sciences of letters. The script in the main text frame is naskh, a cursive style preferred in Qurʼans made in Cairo during the 14th–15th centuries.

Qurʼanic Verses

This Qurʼanic fragment includes verses from several surahs (chapters) in the Qurʼan. On the right side, the fragment contains the first 24 verses of the 56th chapter, al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable). The surah’s heading appears at the top of the right folio, in white ink on a gold ground and framed by a horizontal cartouche decorated with vine motifs on a blue or red background. Below the frame is a simple horizontal band of light blue floral vines and minuscule red dots contained in a gold-outlined panel. The heading states that al-Waqi'ah consists of 96 verses and belongs to the Meccan period. On the top of the left side of this fragment are the last verses (38–62) of the 53rd chapter, al-Najm (The star). On the fifth line appears a red marginal gloss providing an alternate pronunciation for one of the words in the text. At the very end of Surat al-Najm, at the bottom of the folio, is a beautifully executed marginal roundel containing the word sajdah (prostration) written in gold on a blue ground. It marks the place for prayer before reading the next surah. At the bottom of the left folio appears the heading of the next chapter, 54, Surat al-Qamar (The moon), followed by an initial bismillah (In the name of God). The heading is executed much like that of al-Waqi'ah on the right side of the fragment and specifies that it consists of 55 verses revealed in Mecca. The verso of the fragment includes the continuation of Surat al-Qamar with verses 1–20. In the left margin are corrections and comments executed in red ink. On the left side of this folio appear the last verses (55–78) of the 55th chapter of the Qurʼan, Surat al-Rahman (The most gracious). These immediately precede the beginning of the 56th chapter, al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable), on the right side of the fragment's recto. In the left margin appears the same gold and blue round juz' marker as found in the right margin of the same folio. The last verse (78) of the chapter includes the expression "Blessed be the name of your Lord" written in gold ink. It is not unusual to find the name of God (Allah) or his epithets and synonyms picked out in gold ink. The script of the text is executed in a black Persian naskh, while the headings are executed in a larger white thuluth on the fragment’s recto. Both cursive scripts were used in Qurʼans made in Iran during the 16th–17th centuries.

al-Baydawi's "Anwar al-tanzil wa asrar al-ta'wil" with Frontispiece

This folio contains the illuminated frontispiece and title from a manuscript of Anwar al-tanzil wa asrar al-ta'wil (The lights of revelation and the secrets of interpretation), a work consisting of a popular Qurʼanic tafsir (exegesis) composed by the 13th-century scholar al-Baydawi. The title appears in the top panel of the frontispiece, in white ink with the letters drawn out at the vertical to fit into the shape of the horizontal register. The white letters are outlined in black ink and emerge from a gold background decorated with blue and white dots. The center panel contains a variety of polygonal shapes interlaced to form a carpet page, with a palette dominated by brown, gold, and blue hues. The centerpiece consists of an octagonal panel containing the author’s names and titles written in white ink on a gold background containing black vine-like designs. Although the panel’s calligraphy is now barely legible, some of al-Baydawi’s titles can be read. They include al-shaykh (the theologian), al-'adil (the just), and al-qadi (the jurist), reflecting the fact that al-Baydawi was a respected and prolific expert on Qurʼanic exegesis and Islamic law, jurisprudence, and theology. The verso of this folio contains the beginning of the work. After an initial bismillah (In the name of God), the commentary begins with a short opening, in which the author praises the value of interpreting the verses of the Qurʼan and argues that Qurʼanic exegesis is at the head of all sciences. The author then gives the name of his work, before launching into the explanation of al-Fatihah (The opening), the first chapter of the Qurʼan. The text itself is executed by an unknown hand in rather rough naskh script in black ink. Sentences are separated by red upturned virgules, and many later notes have been added.

Qurʼanic Verses

This calligraphic fragment includes two separate horizontal panels cut out and pasted onto a cardboard backing. The upper band contains verse 86 of surah (chapter) three of the Qurʼan, Al 'Imran (The family of 'Imran); the lower band includes verse 89 of the same chapter. The surah calls on Muslims to hold together in harmony and friendship. The ayah (verse) marker in the lower band consists of a gold roundel composed of concentric circles outlined in dark brown ink. Three words were omitted from the original text and have been added in smaller script immediately above the main line of text. The text on each panel’s verso can be seen through the paper. These two fragments, pasted together onto a single sheet, come from the same Qurʼan and are executed in a fine muhaqqaq script. Judging from the height of each panel containing a single line of text, the original manuscript must have been large, perhaps 50 centimeters in height with five lines of text per page. In its simplicity and grandeur, the fragment recalls the famous Baysunghur Qurʼan made either in Herat or Samarqand about 1400 A.D., which contained gigantic folios measuring 177 x 101 centimeters, with writing only on their rectos. Although smaller and with writing on its verso, the similarities between this fragment and the Baysunghur Qurʼan suggest that the former may have been made in the early 15th century in Persia or Central Asia.