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Albertus Seba (1665-1736)
From: Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri
Published in Amsterdam by Wetsten, Smith and Waesberg, 1734-1755
Hand-colored copperplate engravings
Paper sizes approximately 21" x 28" (horiztontal) or 21" x 14" (vertical)
Albert Seba’s magnificent Thesauri is a catalogue of his personal natural history collection, an immense conglomeration of specimens of a number of exotic plant and animal life. The son of a Frisian peasant who became rich in the service of the Dutch East India Company, Seba was an apothecary practicing in Amsterdam when he began to collect. His scientific interests and curiosity motivated him to amass this collection on a series of travels to the East and West Indies, and from purchases he made of specimens collected by travelers the world over. Many of the snakes, plants, fish and shells illustrated and described in his Thesauri were based on the specimens Seba collected in this “cabinet of curiosities.”
In fact, many of the extravagant designs of the engravings were copies of the arrangements of the specimens in the drawers of his cabinet and the walls upon which he hung his collection, which in this way became a sort of predecessor of the modern museum. The collection was a valuable source to European natural historians, many of whom would not have had the opportunity to travel to the far flung destinations where the specimens originated. It is documented, for example, that Carolus Linneas visited the collection when he was in Amsterdam. These fine engravings made Seba’s unparalleled collection accessible to a much wider spectrum of enthusiasts, and modern viewers, too, can appreciate the stylized compositions and near-abstract quality of their stylized, fanciful compositions.