28.Apr.2013 Albertus Seba – Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (Tashchen)


It is probably the height of aspirational middle class parenting to buy your five year old a Taschen hardcover tome but hear me out.

Albertus Seba was an pharmacist and collector of specimens from around the globe in the early 1700s. Based in Amsterdam he amassed such an incredible collection both in breadth and depth, reknowned throughout Europe, that he commissioned artists of the time to draw illustrations of his specimens. This lead to the publication of a four volume ‘thesuarus’ of the natural world between 1734 and 1765 delayed by his death in 1735.

Art publisher Taschen has produced this fantastic set as a single book based on a hand-coloured original with about 400 plates. The detail and diversity is amazing and my son was immediately captivated by its intricacy and strange accumulation of snakes, frogs, lizards, plants, squid, shells, insects, spiders, and butterflies.

Excited flicking through the pages, “what is that?”, “is that really a . . ?”, “is that real?”.

Unlike modern ‘references’ books of the natural world – littered with saturated photography and didactic text – there is an immediate sense of ‘wonder’ that pops out from Seba’s arrangements and the intricately detailed hand drawn illustrations. Much like the ‘specimen drawers’ in natural history museums that are making a comeback, there is a certain type of inspiration that comes from seeing ‘everything at once’.

It is a lovely book and one that more children should be allowed to get their hands on.

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