Wild and Domestic. Studying Old Engravings with Cats

April 1
Culture

On the first day of the spring, Russia celebrates the Day of Cats. Being an unofficial holiday, it is still loved by many. Now we browse cat pictures every day on social media. What images of bewhiskered and tailed cuties were people looking at before digital photography and the Internet?

Elena Salnikova, an employee of the Centre for Rare Books and Collections of the All-Russian State Library of Foreign Literature, has described engravings with images of domestic and wild cats, which one can look at with no less affection.

Lynxes, tigers and lions from the Encyclopaedia of Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon

Late 18th – early 19th century

French naturalist, biologist, natural scientist, mathematician and encyclopaedist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707-1788) was born in the same year as Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. In contrast to Linnaeus who offered the world a strict unified system of classification of the plant and animal kingdoms, Buffon used to pay great attention to the description of animals’ appearance and habits in his research. That way, he wanted to make educated people take interest in and be sympathetic towards the animal world.

His most significant work was the encyclopaedia “Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière” (Natural History, General and Particular). He was writing it in collaboration with geologists, chemists, engineers and naturalists for 40 years. The 36-volume encyclopaedia covered all the achievements of the natural sciences at that time, including the natural history of mammals, birds and fishes. Buffon’s work has been reprinted several times and translated into various languages.

The lynx, tiger and lion are the cutest representatives of the cat family, which can be seen in the Buffon’s encyclopaedia. Engravings with tigers and lions were created by artist Etienne Claude Voisard (1746-1812). The illustrations are contained in volume 26. This volume is part of an expanded edition of the Natural History published from 1798 to 1805 in Paris.

Jaguars from the book by Friedrich Justin Bertuch

Late 18th – early 19th century

Friedrich Justin Bertuch (1747-1822) was a German writer, publisher, editor, and translator. He was one of the originators of the influential Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (Jena Universal Literary Newspaper) published by the popular “Magazine of Luxury and Fashion,” but his main interests were natural science and geography.

In 1791, Bertuh founded the Office of Local Industry Publishing House in Weimar mainly producing maps and travel books. There was also a large popular science series, “Picture Book for Children.” The full title of the book was: “An illustrated book for children containing an interesting collection of animals, plants, flowers, fruits, minerals, costumes, and all sorts of other informative items from the realms of nature, arts, and sciences completely selected from the best originals, engraved, and provided with a brief scientific explanation adapted to child’s understanding capabilities.”

The book designed by several well-known German engravers, as well as students of the Princely Free School of Drawing in Weimar, became a model for subsequent children’s encyclopaedic publications for a long time. Bertuh was insisting on the entertaining nature of children’s books and preferred vivid images inviting to colour their pictures.

The encyclopaedia was published in 1790-1830 in German. The eighth volume used as a source of the presented illustrations was published in 1813.

Cats and kittens from a book by Gaspard de Cherville

Late 18th century

The history of painting knows at least one person who was endlessly fascinated by cats and kittens. The Feline Raphael — that is what French artist Louis-Eugene Lambert (1825-1900) was nicknamed in his country. After the success of his painting “Cats and a Parrot” (three kittens frolicking in a company of a green parrot against the background of a nice interior design) at the Paris Salon in 1857, he realised that he had found his niche. Whiskered and striped, fluffy and short-haired — Lambert painted all kinds of cats. Although he was also depicting other domestic animals, such as dogs, his most memorable ones were paintings and engravings with cats.

The engravings shown here were created by an artist for the book “Dogs and Cats” by Gaspard de Cherville (1819-1898), a French writer, author of numerous short stories and novels about hunting and fishing. Cherville is also known for his collaboration with Alexandre Dumas père. In particular, he helped him write the novel “She-Wolves of Machecoul” (1858). In turn, Dumas père wrote the preface to his “Cats and Dogs” published 30 years later.

Source: mos.ru

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