Quarto (305 x 240 mm.), full contemporary marbled calf, with ornate gilt panels, spine with gilt ruled compartments each with ornate gilt decoration, worn, joints split and repaired, with marbled endpapers. With typographic title, Advertisement and 50 hand-coloured engraved plates, with errata slip inserted at end (repaired), occasional light spotting, otherwise a good example.
The First Edition of arguably the most beautiful work on the insects of China ever published. Edward Donovan (1768-1837) was it appears born in Cork, Ireland, to some wealth. He became an amateur naturalist and traveller. He was a Fellow of the Linnean Society and as an avid collector of natural history specimens opened the London Museum and Institute of Natural History in 1807. It is however for his publications that he is most known. Of these his most famous are those on Insects. The first work published in 1798 was this one on China. Dance praises it highly stating ‘the paint is laid on so thickly that it is frequently impossible to see the engraved lines underneath. The already rich colouring is heightened by the addition of burnished highlights, albumen overglazes and metallic paints to give an overall effect reminiscent of the work of a miniaturist. Surprisingly, these techniques often combined to produce a very pleasing and delicate effect’. The plates capture the remarkable iridescence of the exotic butterflies. Donovan never travelled to China but drew on the extensive collections of Sir George Stainton (Earl Macartney) and his Embassy to China. Later works were published on India and Australia. There is a second inferior edition in 1842. Dance p. 87; Lisney p. 257.