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The Royal Collection, held at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, has been shaped by the personal tastes of kings and queens for more than five hundred years. The Collection s exquisite natural history artworks in Amazing Rare Things is supplemented by an introduction and commentary from Sir David Attenborough. This exploration of the natural w The Royal Collection, held at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, has been shaped by the personal tastes of kings and queens for more than five hundred years. The Collection s exquisite natural history artworks in Amazing Rare Things is supplemented by an introduction and commentary from Sir David Attenborough. This exploration of the natural world from the late fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century represents a period when European knowledge of the world was transformed by voyages of discovery to the farthest reaches of Africa, Asia, America, and beyond. Included are works by Leonardo da Vinci and other foremost artists and collectors of their time who embraced the natural riches of their ever-expanding world and whose legacies help us better understand today our continuing relationship with the natural world.


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The Royal Collection, held at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, has been shaped by the personal tastes of kings and queens for more than five hundred years. The Collection s exquisite natural history artworks in Amazing Rare Things is supplemented by an introduction and commentary from Sir David Attenborough. This exploration of the natural w The Royal Collection, held at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, has been shaped by the personal tastes of kings and queens for more than five hundred years. The Collection s exquisite natural history artworks in Amazing Rare Things is supplemented by an introduction and commentary from Sir David Attenborough. This exploration of the natural world from the late fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century represents a period when European knowledge of the world was transformed by voyages of discovery to the farthest reaches of Africa, Asia, America, and beyond. Included are works by Leonardo da Vinci and other foremost artists and collectors of their time who embraced the natural riches of their ever-expanding world and whose legacies help us better understand today our continuing relationship with the natural world.

30 review for Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    I'll freely admit that this was one of two books I only bought because of Sir David Attenborough's name being on them. And where there's Attenborough on it, there's Attenborough in it, right? Yes, I am a little fangirl. The book, to my surprise (though not in a bad way), is not necessarily about the natural world itself but about the art of natural history. Meaning that the authors (Sir Attenborough only penned the foreword) show some of the most famous nature depictions from books and art galler I'll freely admit that this was one of two books I only bought because of Sir David Attenborough's name being on them. And where there's Attenborough on it, there's Attenborough in it, right? Yes, I am a little fangirl. The book, to my surprise (though not in a bad way), is not necessarily about the natural world itself but about the art of natural history. Meaning that the authors (Sir Attenborough only penned the foreword) show some of the most famous nature depictions from books and art galleries. Funnily enough, some of that artwork I had indeed already seen - either in the Natural History Museum in London, in other books about naturalists' discoveries or some old atlases I have at home. What was the most interesting thing, to me, was the timeline they built. We start in ancient times (murials) then see some of DaVinci's impeccable sketches about proportions followed by some iconic graphs as well as astonishingly detailed and vividly coloured drawings and paintings I'm always awestruck at how gifted these scientists were not only in their respective scientific fields but also at drawing! Nowadays, we simply photograph or film animals and plants and technology has made some amazing advances but way back then, that was not possible. So people had to convey what they saw on clay tablets, papyrus, linen, paper and all kinds of other materials. And let me tell you, some of these art works are almost better than a photograph and you expect some birds, for example, to fly right off the page. Not to mention the details! I'm sure it wasn't easy deciding which art to show in this book since there is so much to choose from, but I think the editors did a very fine job of selecting and by that representing different eras. More than that, many of these sketches, drawings and paintings are so rare that you can't even see them in museums anymore since they are kept under lock and seal for their own protection. Witnesses of times past but still vibrant and utterly beautiful, just like nature itself. But since this is a book about amazing art, here are some more works so you can judge for yourself: It was also interesting to see that while quite a few naturalists had brought exotic animals and plants to life on canvas, there were also a number that wanted to spark people's interest in what was right in front of their noses (as can be seen in the still life with flowers above). I think it's important to strike a balance between valuing faraway places and creatures as much as those at home, wherever that is for you and seeing that addressed here as well was quite nice.

  2. 5 out of 5

    skein

    How do you rate a book that is mainly art - reproductions of former artists? If the art is good, does the rating go up? If the descriptions are inane, do you take away stars? Yes, and yes: at least for this book. The author(s) apparently have a fetish for Leonardo da Vinci - and I could have been more graphic - he's the best artist evah blah blah blah when he is clearly not the best artist even within the pages of the book, if composition and quality of representation are the criteria (and what o How do you rate a book that is mainly art - reproductions of former artists? If the art is good, does the rating go up? If the descriptions are inane, do you take away stars? Yes, and yes: at least for this book. The author(s) apparently have a fetish for Leonardo da Vinci - and I could have been more graphic - he's the best artist evah blah blah blah when he is clearly not the best artist even within the pages of the book, if composition and quality of representation are the criteria (and what other criteria for judging the art of "natural history"?) Intriguingly, the author(s) mentioned a sketch by da Vinci of a man and woman "coiti" -- drawn to study anatomical movement, naturally. Naturally. And naturally, it was not therein reproduced (although the authors included two sketches of an intact male horse, rear view). The book is divided into vague sections, on a timeline, and more-or-less concurrently between artists; the segment best to my liking was on Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), who traveled in 1699 (aged 52) from Amsterdam to the Dutch colony of Surinam, in South America, searching out 'new' and beautiful insects. A woman after my own heart. Her paintings are lurid, vivid, amazing; vibrant, thrumming with an intense, almost sexual joy. Clearly, curlicues were her delight. Everything twists and spirals. Leaves, flower petals, snake tails and moths' antennae. It's gorgeous. ... ah, if only the authors could leave well enough alone (I say "authors", but mainly the problem is David Attenbourough's). The paintings speak for themselves, nearly - let them be! Instead, there are constant little interjections about how stupid medieval man was - nice use of the genderless "he", by the way - and how he couldn't possibly understand the universe as well as we (modern men) do, with his tiny stupid brain and confusion about perspective. Also, the ancient cave-paintings were all done by men. I guess Attenborough knows that somehow. Or maybe he just thinks cavewomen were be too busy shopping for shoes and driving ten miles under the speed limit to observe animals and pick up a brush.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Edith

    Beautifully illustrated volume of color plates, created by 17th c. artists, natural scientists, and collectors, belonging to Britain's Royal Collection. Edited by David Attenborough, with essays on each of the artists. An evocative look at a period in which interest in and knowledge of the world around us was expanding very rapidly. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rin

    I found this at my uni library and decided to read it during my break between classes instead of actually studying. It was an interesting read, though was too focused on the timeline and not so much the topics. I love botanical illustration, so it was fun to look at. There were also a few interesting points and things that inspired me. All in all, a good study break. :^P

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    An interesting history of visual documentation but hard to get through.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Maria Rosanna Ioannou

    Well written with lovely illustrations, but too brief. You feel that the author could have expanded more.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    508.0222 A8837 2015

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I came across this at the library and picked it up as a companion piece to Wonders and the Order of Nature. It has a ton of great illustrations and brief biographies from some major early natural history artists. A lot of the stories parallel the development from random curiosities to scientific observation by way of collections made for wealthy patrons. Wonders mostly covers physical collections like the Wunderkammern, while this book is of course on painted collections. The biographies don't h I came across this at the library and picked it up as a companion piece to Wonders and the Order of Nature. It has a ton of great illustrations and brief biographies from some major early natural history artists. A lot of the stories parallel the development from random curiosities to scientific observation by way of collections made for wealthy patrons. Wonders mostly covers physical collections like the Wunderkammern, while this book is of course on painted collections. The biographies don't have a lot of context or coherent argument, so I didn't really take much out of them. Maria Sybilla Merian is a badass, and someone who might merit reading a more in-depth biography, though. Otherwise, they're neat pictures, showing some early entomological drawings, which are pretty good, as well as some early depictions of New World mammals, which are hilariously bad.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    Glorious. This book explores the images from natural history records and looks at them as a form of art. I have always considered the incredible drawings of plants and animals from this era as art, and I was excited to see them examined this way by some of the masters in the field. The writing is straightforward but thorough. Though the sections are written by different people, there is an overall sense of being pulled into the world of discovery and allowed to spend some time marvelling there. I Glorious. This book explores the images from natural history records and looks at them as a form of art. I have always considered the incredible drawings of plants and animals from this era as art, and I was excited to see them examined this way by some of the masters in the field. The writing is straightforward but thorough. Though the sections are written by different people, there is an overall sense of being pulled into the world of discovery and allowed to spend some time marvelling there. I read read most of this book within a few hours of owning it, while sitting in a cafe enjoying a very large 'Edith Piaf'. I went home and finished it straight away. The illustrations are amazing and the text is unrivalled. This book belongs in your collection.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lana.

    A quick flip through the book caught my interest when I recognised some of the pictures (or at least the style) – as note card favourites. Turns out these cherished images have a lot of history, and played quite a role in naturalist science. I borrowed the book from the library and began reading. The book consists of informative and concise essays along with beautiful reproductions if watercolours and drawings – all which work to introduce the reader to natural art and the naturalist artists who A quick flip through the book caught my interest when I recognised some of the pictures (or at least the style) – as note card favourites. Turns out these cherished images have a lot of history, and played quite a role in naturalist science. I borrowed the book from the library and began reading. The book consists of informative and concise essays along with beautiful reproductions if watercolours and drawings – all which work to introduce the reader to natural art and the naturalist artists whose works are featured in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle. Artists include da Vinci, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Mark Catesby. Interesting, but definitely an introduction to the field. I will definitely be searching out more information on these pictures.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    The illustrations in this book are fantastic and the content by Attenborough is great. The introduction provides some interesting context on how art has informed biology and how biology has informed art (at least, this is what the introduction made me think about). The illustration notes impart interesting tidbits about some of the animals and plants illustrated in the plates, as well as what the artists got right . . . and what they may have embellished. The rest of the text is less inspiring, The illustrations in this book are fantastic and the content by Attenborough is great. The introduction provides some interesting context on how art has informed biology and how biology has informed art (at least, this is what the introduction made me think about). The illustration notes impart interesting tidbits about some of the animals and plants illustrated in the plates, as well as what the artists got right . . . and what they may have embellished. The rest of the text is less inspiring, giving pretty basic information about the artists and the works they created. The book is also limited in that it focusses on collections owned by the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (mind you, the kings and queens of England can afford a pretty kickin' collection).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book is exquisite. It covers aspects of history I had never before even considered. It is bursting with information and, even better, gorgeous illustrations. The segments on the different artist/naturalists were all fascinating, but the chapter on Maria Sibylla Merian was my favorite. She pretty much rocked in a time when it was difficult for women to do so. And she draws a mean Australian cockroach.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I was delighted to discover that the work of Maria Sibylla Merian was included in this book, along with that of Alexander Marshall. They were both amazing botanical artists. The work of Leonardo da Vinci is also featured as is that of Mark Catesby (loved the Sarracenia purpurea with frog). A wonderful discovery, too, was the paper museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. This is a book I would enjoy owning ~ I hated having to return it to the library.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eling

    I know some find this oddly organized or not to their expectations, but it is in fact not a reference book nor a natural history book. It is more about the art and the artists behind earlier natural history discoveries and illustrations. Really interesting and full of great illustrations, details and tidbits. Great for anyone interested in this type of artwork, or the history of scientific illustration. I really enjoyed it and bought it for my own collection.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    Good pics and occasionally interesting text. I think this was a Christmas impulse publication with a pretty cover and a extra-wide spaced blurb by Attenborough. The pics could be more numerous and it's too small to be a good coffee table book. Better to read Chrysalis or look at Cabinet of Curiosities.

  16. 5 out of 5

    fletch

    Beautiful illustrations with vibrant color - looking at the pictures is pleasurable enough, although I'm also interested in reading the authors' analysis as well. After seeing the Egyptology exhibit at the Frye, I've been thinking about the ways that artists, scholars and scientists, when put to the task of documenting the "exotic," easily become effective tools of colonialist expansion.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kaye

    David Attenborough explores the Royal Library at Windsor. The reproductions are beautiful. How nice to find Maria Sibylla Merian as one of the featured artists, along with Leonardo da VInci, Mark Catesby, and Alexander Marshall. And the paper museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo was a wonderful discovery. My problem now is deciding if this book gets shelved with natural history books or with art books.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    This book is a series of very short essays about various classical (pre-modern-art) artists working in the subject of natural history. It reads like an exhibition catalogue, so don't expect anything incredibly profound, but it gave me some good insights about new artists to check out and new ways to think about people whose work I already knew.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Danielle T

    Grad school suddenly cut in on recreational reading, so it took considerably longer to finish things I started late summer. David Attenborough does the introduction and a couple pages per chapter, but there's another 3 authors that cover the various artists. Absolutely gorgeous book; early scientific plates are works of art.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    I just saw this book at 192 Books in Chelsea. It's a compilation of essays with beautifully reproduced color drawings of nature, some even by Da Vinci. It's a good coffee table book, but also one to read in small bits.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Debs

    This book has got beautiful illustration pictures. However, it's about art and one of the chapters was Da Vinci's work. The topic of this book was not interested me as I flicked through the pages to see the illustrations. Or may be I was too tired reading Engineering and Maths study books.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bevan

    Published by Yale, this is a beautifully produced book, full of unusual and unusually splendid illustrations by artists from Leonardo to Audubon, of animals and plants depicted and studied during the Age of Discovery.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yuki Shimmyo

    Beautiful integration of art and science. Lush illustrations of flora and fauna.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maris

    This book got me all excited about the magic combo of art + nature. I only wish it were longer.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Raphael Rosen

    I loved this book. The illustrations were beautiful, and David Attenborough's introduction was especially good. I recommend _Amazing Rare Things_ wholeheartedly!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Snafoo

    Found this book through goodreads. Placed an order immediately.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    David Attenborough geeking out over Da Vinci sketches. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, neither do I.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    What a fascinating topic! Although the text wasn't terribly in-depth, I loved the stunning visuals captioned with David Attenborough's snarky comments on scientific accuracy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marts (Thinker)

    In Amazing Rare Things:... David Attenborough explores the works of five natural history artists.....

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    Fine.

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