MANETTI, Saverio (1723-1784), Lorenzo LORENZI and Violante VANNI (1732-1776). Storia degli Uccelli [Florence: 1767-1776].
5 volumes, 2° (155 x 350mm). Etched half title to each volume with stamped volume numbers (T1, T2 etc.) letterpress text in Latin and Italian and indices in English, Latin and Italian, 600 finely coloured etched counter-proof plates by Lorenzi and Vanni, numbered I-DC, each with manuscript captions below the image, plates I and X with reversed signatures of Vanni on the plate. (Some very minor dampstaining affecting a few plates, without portraits, titles and dedications, blank margins of plates 358 and 360 with sections cut in). Contemporary Italian red morocco gilt, covers with foral roll-tooled gilt border, covers with later Botfield arms, marbled endpapers gilt edges (extremities lightly rubbed).
AN IMPORTANT UNRECORDED ISSUE (IN COUNTER-PROOF STATE) OF ONE OF THE GREATEST 18TH CENTURY BIRD BOOKS. One of two examples extant. In this copy of Mannetti's Ornithologia the plates have been especially prepared in counter-proof and coloured to resemble the original watercolours. No other sets in this form are recorded, however Pisa University (ms 1011) holds a 3 volume set of "600 watercolours" without captions, discovered in 1982, with the 2nd watercolour bearing the 'inverted signature of Lorenzi'. This set was described as preparatory drawings for the final prints but a recent review of the copy indicates that this set also comprises elaborately coloured counter-proof plates. The existence of counter-proof plates for this work was previously unknown, and is particularly unusual in Italian Natural History books. One of the greatest exponents of this technique was Maria Sybella Merian and her daughter in Amsterdam in the early 18th century. The delicate posotive offset image is taken from an inked impression on paper, taken from the plate creating the lightest of outlines on which the watercolourist can work. In the case of this work, the plates are often so heavily overpainted, sometimes with body colour, that the fine printed base in many cases is very difficult to identify, in effect forming what appears to be an original watercolour. Of the original set of watercolours, examples are sometimes found bound into copies of the work, and the 'Minneapolis Institute of Arts' have the watercolours for plates 118 and 222.
The history of Manetti's work is fascinating; published between 1767 and 1776, the Storia Naturali degli Uccelli ...Ornithologia, methodice digesta was a grand project. The task of putting the work together was undertaken by the Tuscan physician - naturalist Saverio Manetti, who graduated from the University of Pisa in 1747, joining the College of Melicone in Florence in 1758. He was a member of the Royal Society, a founder of the Academy of Georgofili, and director of the Florentine Botanical Garden (from 1749-82).
The idea of one of the largest surveys of ornithology yet attempted sprang from the sponsorship of Marquis Giovanni Gerini, one of the old Florentine families. Manetti arranged for the drawings of the birds to be prepared from life from examples in Gerini's aviaries or from skins in his or other collections. The introduction to the published work stresses that no bird was drawn that was not from life or had not been sufficiently examined. Abbé Lorenzo Lorenzi and the young Violante Vanni were the artists, engravers and colourists for the work, Manetti was responsible for the text, nomenclature of species and arranging the patrons and distribution of the work. Abbe Lorenzi came from Volterra and was a pupil of Ippolito Cigna and he had already worked for Gerini. Vanni, one of the few women in this field, was a pupil of Robert Strange and is described by a contemporary as a 'woman of very low extraction but of great skill, who having obtained a comfortable way of living in producing feminine frolics, began drawing under the guidance of Abbé Lorenzi, with success matured in age'. One of Vanni's first projects was as an artist on the Gazetiere Americano published in 1763 in Leghorn by Marco Coltellini. The engravers were Scacciati and Terrini, and Rossi and Vanni drew the zoological plates, modelled on Edward's History of Uncommon Birds (1745-51) and Merian's Metamorphosis Insectorum. Vanni may well have been familiar with the counter-proof technique through Merian's work.
Manetti published the work in parts of 12 plates issued every two months or so, most plates dedicated to a prominent member of the Italian nobility and gentry. Planned as 6 volumes the set was issued as 5 volumes with the same number of plates, with either Latin or Italian text and Manetti's standing in Europe as a naturalist brought him many subscribers. The set in Pisa was apparently purchased from Lorenzi in 1787 by Giogio Santi and Angelo Fabroni, director of the University. It seems likely that given the time span for the project, and the absence of letters on the counter-proof plates, the decision to create various copies of the work in imitation of original watercolours was taken at an early stage. It seems very likely that Lorenzi's own copy is now at Pisa, and that this copy was probably Vanni's set of the counter-proof plates, but bound up with part of the text for a local patron. Other sets of counter-proof plates may well have been created for Gerini, and Manetti.
The volumes of this set collate as follows:
Vol.I Half-title; 16pp Ad lectores; 18pp Divisio methodica avium; 62pp text; plates 1-120.
Vol.II Half-title; 16pp Bibliotheca Ornithologiae; 70pp text; plates 121-240.
Vol.III Half-title; 78pp text; plates 241-360.
Vol.IV Half-title; 1p Aviso; 70pp text; plates 361-480.
Vol.V Half-title; 52pp text; 47pp indices; plates 481-600.
Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi, Naturalistic Illustrations and Collections in Tuscany in the Eighteenth Century, Massachusetts, 2000; S.Frugis, L.Tomasi, P.Tongiorgi, Finding of the original watercolours of the Storia Naturale degli Uccelli, Physis 24, 1982; for the standard work cf. Nissen 558; Wood p.450; Fine Bird Books p.10 "Manetti's Ornithologia is one of the half dozen or so great Bird Books in the collector's sense". (5)