Francois Levaillant and the Birds of Africa.

Francois Levaillant and the Birds of Africa. L. C. Rookmaaker.

Johannesburg: The Brenthurst Press, 2004. Quarto, colour illustrations, fine copy in dustwrapper.

Intrepid traveller, pioneering naturalist, famous author, François Levaillant (1753-1824) was a celebrity in his own lifetime. The colourful accounts of his travels in southern Africa in the 1780s were widely read in seven languages. His sumptuous bird books, published in a golden age of natural history book production, recorded for posterity his extensive bird collections. Yet he has often been dismissed as a flamboyant Gallic adventurer with a cavalier regard for the truth. This new study seeks to re-examine this controversial figure against the backdrop of the world of natural history and its practice in the late European Enlightenment. The potent mix of science and commerce is reflected in Levaillant's fascinated pursuit of knowledge of the animal kingdom and his active trade in specimens during the social and political upheavals of the early 18th century.

The Brenthurst Library has 58 original watercolour paintings, mostly of birds of prey, the prototypes of published engravings in Oiseaux d'Afrique. Painted with brilliant clarity under Levaillant's supervision, these illustrations are reproduced at actual size to the highest standards. Levaillant's accompanying bird descriptions, including field observations, are fully translated into English for the first time, specifically for this edition, and are reassessed from the perspective of modern ornithology. Levaillant is revealed as a naturalist ahead of his time, vigorous and exceptionally skilled, whose work laid the foundations of African ornithology.


Dr Kees Rookmaaker, zoologist and author of The Zoological Exploration of Southern Africa 1660-1790 (1989)

Dr Peter Mundy, professor of ornithology in the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, an authority on birds of prey and the lead author of The Vultures of Africa (1992)

Dr Ian Glenn, associate professor at the University of Cape Town, and researcher in France on the life of Levaillant

Dr Emma Spary, specialist in the history of natural history and author of Utopia's Garden: French Natural History from Old Regime to Revolution.

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