DESCOURTILZ, Jean Theodore. Histoire des Oiseaux-Mouches habitant les districts de Rio-Janéiro, Bananal, San-Paulo, Macahé, Canta-Gallo, et Ilha-Grande. Au Brésil. Rio-Janéiro, 1831 [watermarked 1829].
2° (395 x 240mm.). ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT on paper, 63 leaves comprising half-title, title signed by the author, 6pp., introduction, 40pp. text, a further 4pp. text in a different style, table, page of pencil notes signed LC and 31 ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR DRAWINGS, (occasional spotting). Nineteenth century red morocco by Capé, sides with triple gilt fillet border and panel with fleuron cornerpieces, spine gilt in 7 compartments, inner gilt dentelles uncut. Provenance: bookplate with the monogram LC and motto Ex multis non multos. Note in pencil on verso of half-title Encadenardo por Capé custou frs. 2000 em 1876 no ceilad de L. Gonzales, no do catalogo 192.
AN IMPORTANT EARLY UNPUBLISHED WORK, and perhaps his most beautiful, by the ornithologist J.T. Descourtilz, one of eight sons of the doctor and naturalist Michel Etienne Descourtilz (1775-1836). A signed autograph inscription at the foot of the title-page states Je déclare être l'auteur du present manuscrit, Paris le 20 Decembre 1831. J.Th. Descourtils.
Besides the Ornithologie Brésilienne, published in four parts in London sometime after 1852, Descourtilz's only other known work on American birds is Oiseaux brillants du Brésil. A great rarity, only four copies have been located and Borba de Moraes wrote "this book is so rare that I began to doubt its existence..." though he eventually discovered the copy in the Fondation Teyler in Haarlem. This manuscript, on Whatman paper watermarked 1829, was evidently assembled by Descourtilz with a view to publication and, given its grand appearance, it was probably intended to be offered to the Emperor of Brasil. But 1831 was the year in which the Emperor Dom Pedro abdicated in favour of his five year old heir and returned to Europe.
The thirty-one full-page watercolours of humming-birds are finely painted, each numbered in gold at the top, some with the bird's plumage also highlighted in gold. Twenty show two or more birds in their natural settings with plants and flowers, one with the female protecting a nest of eggs, shows the male attacking a snake (cobra cipo) coiled round a branch of an orange tree. Another is killed by a hairy spider (Mygale aviculaire) emerging from a bamboo cane while its mate hovers in alarm. The other eleven drawings depict one bird only; all have the Latin name of the species written in pencil and signed LC.
The text likewise is interesting and important. The introduction is followed by a detailed description of each drawing, giving the morphology of the male and female species, commentary on the habitat, flight, territory, habits, etc. It is neatly laid out and written in ink to imitate printing up to plate 27. The descriptions for the last four drawings (birds originating in Peru but discovered in Brazil) contain similar information but are written in less formal script, but the Table at the end listing all 31 plates, repeats the earlier, neat printing style.
After the index at the end, below a short list of Espèces du Brésil non decrites, a note in pencil signed LC casts doubt on the authorship of the last four plates. Expressing surprise that un naturaliste si exact ai[sic] prit[sic] des oiseaux de Perou comme du Bresil. An unjustified accusation as the descriptions for the last four plates take care to mention the Peruvian origin of the bird and its presence, or appearance, at given times and places in Brazil.