Things that go hoot in the night

by Ann Sylph on

We are featuring some beautiful owls this month as part of our World Book Night celebrations - an annual celebration of reading and books which taking  place this year on 23 April. 

Owl engraving, Bubo maximus Plate LXXXI in Volume 1 of Manetti, 1767-76
Owl engraving, Bubo maximus Plate LXXXI in Volume 1 of Manetti, 1767-76

These wonderful, characterful owls are from a very special book : Ornithologia, methodice digesta atque iconibus aeneis ad vivum illuminatis ornate = Storia naturale degli uccelli, trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame  with dedication signed by: Saverio Manetti, Lorenzo Lorenzi, Violante Vanni, in five volumes, Florentiae :  in aedibus Mouchinnis, 1767-76.

Owl, Asio, engraving from the 18th century, in Manetti, Plate LXXXV, Vol. 1, 1767-76
Engraving of owl, Plate 1 of Asio in Volume 1 of Manetti, 1767-76

It was an extraordinary book, produced in five large folio volumes and published in Florence over a period of ten years from 1767. The birds are depicted with such character by the artists Lorenzo Lorenzi and Violante Vanni. The text in the volumes is in both Latin and Italian by Saverio Manetti.

Saverio [Francis Xavier] Manetti (1723-1785) was a Florentine physician and botanist. This remarkable book was commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany.

According to S. Peter Dance in The art of natural history : animal illustrators and their work (London : Country Life Books, 1978) " It was larger, better engraved and more vividly coloured than any previous work on birds, but these are not its only claim to fame. The attitudes of the birds themselves give this book its unique character. Strutting, parading, posturing, and occasionally flying over its 600 hand-coloured plates are birds whose real-life counterparts would surely disown them, and not without reason, for Manetti seems in these pictures to be depicting the human comedy, the habits and mannerisms of contemporary Italian society. Nonetheless his book may still be rated among the very greatest bird books, if only for its magnificent comicality”

We will be displaying some of the volumes from Manetti’s great work in ZSL Library from 14 April onwards so do call in to see them if you can, meanwhile do enjoy the images on this page

Engraving of owl, Aluco diurnis, Plate LXXXXIII in Vol. 1 of Manetti, 1767-76
Aluco diurnus, engraving of owl, Plate LXXXXIII in Volume 1 of Manetti, 1768-76

Many resources are available in ZSL Library and no appointment is necessary to use these, however if you are a ZSL member please bring your membership card. Non-members will need proof of address and photographic ID if you are not already a member of ZSL.

Use our online catalogue to find more detailed information about specific items in our holdings. It also contains links to relevant online resources:


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