SPALOWSKY, Joachim Johann Nepomuk (1752-1797). Erster Beytrag zur Naturgeschichte der vierfüssigen Thiere. Vienna: Franz Anton Schrämbl, 1794.
Folio (406 x 270mm). Letterpress title, dedication to Franz II and Maria Theresia facing full-page engraved plates of their arms, hand-coloured and gilt, 6-page address by the author, contents leaf, 59 engraved plates in part by B. Piringer, 57 of which have been richly overpainted with additional background extending beyond the plate, and with Latin-German caption identification written in red, the final two plates depicting part of a hippopotamus skeleton simply coloured/labelled; all leaves on guards. (Light spotting and one light stain at extreme inner margins, small marginal tears in a few plates, extending within platemark in one plate, discreetly repaired, slight marginal wear to plate 56A repaired.) Contemporary pale green silk over pasteboard with gilt-stamped border and central oval, patterned endpapers (rubbed, edges worn, rebacked with green silk), in modern maroon morocco box lined with green silk. Provenance: Henri de Courcelles, gift inscription by Hans Bautz dated 10 Nov. 1871.
A VERY RARE UNIQUE COPY WITH ELABORATELY DECORATED BACKGROUNDS, J.J.N. Spalowsky is known as the official physician to the Bürgerliches Regiment of Vienna and the author of other books on natural history, the most common (although still uncommon) being Beytrag zur Naturgeschichte der Vögel (1790-95). The present work, however, is unrecorded in all bibliographies, and even Meusel (Lexicon der Teutschen Schriftsteller) writing in 1812 did not list this work among Spalowsky's publications. The Austrian National Library in Vienna has a a variant edition of this work: the letterpress is printed with smaller type and shows a different lay-out, it contains an additional preface, and the plates, while hand-coloured, do not have the full painted backgrounds. In contrast, the plates in the present copy of Die Vierfüssige Thiere are remarkable. The engravings are fully and finely hand-coloured, and have complete painted backgrounds added which extend well beyond the actual image. For all Spalowsky's claim to accuracy, the backgrounds often contain poetic license, such as the tiger feasting below a Germanic castle, and the giraffe strolling before architectural ruins. The illustrations, and especially the colouring, in his works were of utmost importance to Spalowsky, who refers to the plates as "illuminated".
In his dedication to Franz II and Maria Theresia, Spalowsky sets out his intention to produce a whole natural history illustrating accurately all animals from the three orders which are either not commonly known or are usually misrepresented. Their accurate depiction is one of his chief goals, and to this end he states that he will illustrate them in living colour, so as not to disappoint either artist or purchaser. In this grandiose endeavour, Spalowsky humbly requests the patronage of Franz II and Maria Theresa. It may be that the ambitious 10-volume Naturgeschichte der vierfüssigen Thiere, Vögel, Amphibien und Conchylien, nebst Abhandlungen der ökonomischen Wissenschaft, dann der Numismatik (Vienna, n.d.) which is recorded only in Graesse (VI, 457) was the realisation of Spalowsky's proposal. In that case, it is tempting to see in the present copy, with its specially coloured plates, its fine, large letterpress, and its delicate green silk binding, as a copy printed for the dedicatees in Spalowsky's suit for patronage. Having found favour, other copies, with different letterpress and address to the reader, were issued, a second Beytrag was issued (one copy, printed by the widow of Ignaz Alberti in 1795 exists in Vienna), and the work was presumably further supplemented to form the 10-voume work described by Graesse. Even with ambiguities unsolved, the Viefüssige Thiere remains a fine copy of a remarkable and very rare work. Christie's are grateful to Dr. Gerda Mraz of the Austrian National Library for communicating details of the ANL copy of Die vierfüssige Thiere.