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Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery Hardcover – October 28, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, this historical overview of scientific illustrators between the late 1400s and the mid-1700s includes beautiful, intricate specimens from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Natural History Museum, among others. Filmmaker Attenborough provides an introductory survey of the artistic representation of plants and animals through human history; succeeding chapters focus on five figures-four artists and one collector-none of whom are well-known in either scientific or art history circles. Cassiano dal Pozzo proves an eager and curious antiquarian, a church functionary in Rome who amassed a remarkable collection of illustrations featuring everything from ancient Roman artifacts, minerals and fossils to newly discovered plants and animals. Stunning work by Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby capture plants and animals in their natural state, including dispatches from the New World and fauna newly arrived from foreign lands. Merian proves most fascinating, working in a time (the late 15th century) when women seldom left their homes, let alone traveled unattended to South America to draw insects and plants in the jungles of Dutch Surinam. A true feast for anyone interested in natural history, this marvelous book makes the underappreciated artworks of a passionate, talented group widely accessible. Color illustrations.
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Review

"Scientists often wonder who first illustrated biodiversity, and I imagine that artists often wonder about the chronology and development of accurate depictions of natural history. Amazing Rare Things is a welcome and long overdue integration of art and science.”—Margaret D. Lowman, author of It’s a Jungle Up There and Life in the Treetops
(Margaret Lowman)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st Edition (2nd printing) edition (October 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030012547X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300125474
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #496,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Magdalena Bassett on January 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a botanical illustrator, I purchased this book to learn from the masters, and be able to see these vibrantly colorful illustration in full size. I was not disappointed. The book is beautifully printed on creamy paper, the colors look true, and the design is very elegant. I have returned to it time after time to see the different details, and always find something new. It's a great addition to my botanical wonders library.
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Format: Hardcover
You'd better read the title of this book carefully before you order it sight unseen. The key word is ART, not 'natural history' or 'age of discovery'. The book is in fact a series of essays about five pioneering scientific illustrators: Leonardo da Vinci, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Mark Catesby. I certainly don't wish to scoff at the importance of scientific illustration, or to deny that there is no true line between such illustration and fine art. I only wish the book in hand included a good deal more of the illustrations and less of the sometimes rhapsodic texts. As it happens, this is effectively a 'coffee table' book, large format, high quality paper, excellent color printing -- just the kind of book you'd give as a holiday present to an ungrateful lout like me.

Added months later: Since I first looked through this book, I've become deeply impressed by and interested in the lief and work of Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the illustrator-subjects of this book. The plates of her scientific illustrations are phenomenal, and her life was as unique an adventure as that of any woman in Early Modern European history. I refer you to the biographey of her, "Chrysalis", by Kim Todd.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was really impressed with the color illustrations of the artists. I was surprised to see that Leonardo Davinci's art was the worst of any artist in the book. I had heard that David Attenborough had not made enough comments in the book according to one Amazon reviewer, but I found that that was not the case. He certainly is the main author of this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I saw a review of this book in a magazine, and just had to have it. It's everything I thought it was and more. I'm savoring it, taking my time with the great illustrations--reading it is like going to a private museum.

I had a great shopping experience also--came in a timely manner, and saved a little by using Amazon.
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Format: Hardcover
David Attenborough technically retired after "Life in Cold Blood" capped his "Life" series, which has now covered every living thing in the world. Now he does whatever he wants, which generally means geeking out over one obscure thing after another; he recently completed a one-hour special about amber, just because he thinks amber is cool. And now there's this, which is basically him waxing geektastic about famous nature illustrators.

Flip through it and find a Da Vinci drawing of a dissected bear's foot on one page, with Attenborough babbling about how kickass that is on the next. If you don't think that sounds awesome, this is not the book for you. Neither am I the friend for you.

It's not all Attenborough - he just wrote the wonderful introduction and contributed extensive comments on many of the plates. Other folks wrote each of the four essays on important figures in natural illustration's history. And I saw a typo in the Da Vinci one, which pissed me off. I hate typos. But this book still totally rules my face.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I must admit being a little misled by the fact the name David Attenbourough appears above this book's title. I am so fascinated by his Telvision works and the accompanying books, that I buy almost anything with his name on it.
While the book itself is well illustated and well written, I was dissapointed that Sir David's only contribution was the Introduction.
This is a good book for someone with a deep interest in Natural History illustations, but may be a little much for someone with a more fundamental interest in Natural History documentaries.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My father, artist and one possessing an advocation as a naturalist, received this for his 95th birthday. He was effusive with joy describing the quality of the art and the fascinating content.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a work of art. For those interested in natural history, it will make you drool. Splendidly done, and highly recommended!
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