Monday, November 15, 2010

The Engravings of J. M. Seligmann

Johann Michael Seligmann
(1720 Nürnberg, Germany-1762 Nürnberg, Germany)

Seligmann's The King of the Vultures, 1749

A few years after English naturalists George Edwards (1694-1773) and Mark Cateby (1683-1749) published their respective landmark works, A Natural History of Birds (London, 1743-1751, Four Volumes, followed by Gleanings of Natural History, 1758-1764, Three Volumes), and The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and Bahama Islands (London, 1731-1743), a twenty-nine year old German artist, art dealer, engraver and publisher, Johann Michael Seligmann embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of his short career: combining Edwards' and Cateby's publications into a single work, the nine-volume Sammlung verschiedener ausländischer und seltener Vögel... (Collection of Various Foreign and Rare Birds).

Seligmann's The Artic Bird, 1749 

Seligmann's American Water Rail, 1749

Seligmann's The Eared or Horned Bod, 1749

As a young man, Seligmann trained at the Nürnberg Malerakademie, and studied with the Preisslers, a well known family of painters and engravers of Bohemian origin.   Afterwards, he took the obligatory “Grand Tour” of Italy, visiting Rome and also traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, before returning to Nüremberg.  There, Seligmann went into business, and made his reputation engraving anatomical and botanical plates, as well as engraving and publishing landmark works for the leading artists of the day; among them:  Hortus Nitidissimis Omnem Per Anum Superbiens Floribus Sive Amoenissimorum Florum Imagines (A year in a brilliant garden of exquisite flowers represented in beautiful pictures) (1750-1792), a series of botanical drawings by wealthy German physician and botanist, Christoph Jakob Trew (1695-1769); Opera botanica (1767) by naturalist and bibliographer Konrad Gessner (1516-1565), who never lived to see his work published (edited by Christoph Jakob Trew, Cassimir Christoph Schmidel, and Johann Michael Seligmann); Erz Stüffen und Berg Arten (Ore Specimens and Mineral Species of the Mines) (1753) by professor of Pharmacology, Medicine, lecturer and Mineralogist, Cassimir Christoph Schmidel (1718-1792); Pomologia, das ist Beschreibungen und Abbildungen der besten Sorten der Aepfel und Birnen... (Pomology, or the description of the best kind of apples and pears) (1760-1766) by mathematician and head gardener to Dowager Princess Maria Louisa of Orange, Johann Hermann Knoop (1700-1769).

Frontispiece, Pomologia,  1760

Trew's Tulip, 1767

 When first issued, Seligmann's Sammlung verschiedener ausländischer und seltener Vögel was regarded as one of the most important Natural History books of its genre; it contained 473 hand colored plates of various and there-to-fore unknown birds and animals in their natural habitat, 2 engraved frontispieces, 8 engraved title-vignettes, 1 large hand colored map of the Colony of Carolina (USA), and 1 engraved portrait.  Today, it still ranks high on the “Fine Bird Books” list of important publications.  The impact of Seligmann's work was such, many foreign birds became better known in Europe than the native species.

Seligmann, Chinese Starling, 1749

 For his Sammlung verschiedener ausländischer und seltener Vögel, Seligmann created all new copperplates, often adding botanical and scenic details to enhance the overall composition, and he translated the original English texts into German with the help of Georg Leonhart Huth. Aside from the customary Latin, the new plates also provided information in German and French. 

Seligmann's attention to detail and faithful, consistent hand coloration have, to this day, remained one of the hallmarks of his oeuvre.  These qualities have earned him the respect of collectors and scholars, and a high, rightful, place in the natural history circles. Seligmann's plates reflect well, if not surpass, the originals which inspired him, and stand on their own as a source of natural history documentation from the mid-Eighteenth Century.  Publication started in 1749, and subsequent volumes followed until after Seligmann's death, when his heirs continued with the project; the last volume being published in 1773.

Seligmann, Brown Heath-cock, 1749

© D.A. Pardo-Rangel 2010
Fine Bird Books, p. 93
Dictionary of Bird Artists, p. 431
Dictionary of Painters and engravers: biographical and critical, Vol. 2, p. 486
Drawn from life: Science and art in the portrayal of the New World, p. 270
The Princeton University library chronicle, Volumes 11-12, p.221
Antiquariaat Junk

Art work: Private collection


  1. Hello,

    Would you know how much one of his original prints be worth?

    1. Some can be found for under $100.00; most run for about twice that much, or more depending on the edition, and condition.