De aquatilibus, libri duo cum [epsilon, iota] conibus ad viuam ipsorum effigiem, quoad eius fieri potuit, expressis.

Paris, Caroloum Stephanum, 1553.


FIRST EDITION. Oblong 8vo. pp. (xxxii), 448. a-b⁸, A-2E⁸. Roman letter, some Greek and Italic. 185 woodcuts in text most full page, almost all with contemporary hand colouring, early inscription crossed out at head of title page, “Sarthe, Le Mans, Pierre Belon a né au Le Mans en 15..,” in later hand on fly, early French inscription on the rear endpaper, “ex-libris C. Dupres,” with acquisition note from Paris with price, and bibliographical note “rare Citté dans debure.’ Title page a little dusty, light age yellowing with some minor spotting, the odd thumb mark and marginal splash or spot, minor dust soiling in places, cut a little close, just touching running headlines in places, and woodcut of the hammer-head shark in lower margin (as in the Harvard copy). A good copy, with excellent contemporary hand colouring, in early C18th cats paw calf, re-backed, spine re-mounted, all edges red.

First edition of Belon’s marvellously illustrated work on fish, molluscs and aquatic mammals, entirely coloured in a contemporary hand. Its appearance constituted the greatest single advance in the scientific study and classification of fish since Aristotle. This work, together with those of Belon’s contemporaries Rondolet and Salviani, remained standard texts for the study of fish well into the 17th century. The colouring in this copy is identical to that at Harvard, showing that this was the publisher’s colouring made for luxurious copies.

Physician, polymath, traveller, artist, and naturalist, Pierre Belon (1517 – 1564) was most famously a founding protagonist for the phenomenon of homology in comparative anatomy. He obtained his medical degree at the University of Paris and, under the patronage of Francois I, was sent on diplomatic missions abroad, which allowed him to study the wildlife of the eastern Mediterranean. Starting in 1546, he travelled through Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, Arabia, and Palestine, and returned in 1549. A full account of his travels, with illustrations, was published in 1553. Belon, who was highly favoured both by Henri II and by Charles IX, was murdered by persons unknown in Paris one evening in April 1564, when coming through the Bois de Boulogne.

“Belon’s de acquatilibus has 110 drawings of fish: 22 cartilaginous fish, 71 marine and bony fish, and 17 freshwater bony fish. The book also included Cetacea, seals hippopotamus, beaver and otter… his were probably the first published drawings of fish, less skilful than those of Rondelet and Salviani, yet Belon had valuable knowledge of eastern Mediterranean fish unknown to them.” Frank N. Egerton ‘Roots of Ecology: Antiquity to Haeckel.’ Belon’s woodcuts are particularly charming: “The figures representing them are easily recognizable, not-withstanding the simplicity of the style of the wood-engravings. His philosophical mind had a very correct appreciation of the genera. His groupings were made with a surprisingly just instinct. To an indefatigable activity he joined vast erudition. He brought to the front the study of nature and of the books that treat of it… The feature that especially prepared new bases for the science of fishes was his observations on the thoracic and abdominal splanchnology of those animals.” Popular Science Monthly, Volume 34.

Belon’s ‘De aquatilibus,’ and his later ‘L’Histoire de la nature des oyseaux’ (1555) entitle him to be regarded as one of the first workers in the science of comparative anatomy. Copies in contemporary hand colouring have always been significantly rarer that ordinary copies.

BM STC Fr. C16th p. 46. Adams B-554, Brunet I:761, Nissen ZBI 302, Pinon Livres de zoologie de la Renaissance 17. Not in Mortimer.


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