Born in 1665, Albertus Seba was a wealthy apothecary from Amsterdam and an avid collector of natural curiosities. In 1731, he commissioned a group of artists and engravers to assist him in creating a collection of illustrations of animals, plants and insects derived from his collection of specimens from around the world. As an apothecary in the eighteenth century, Seba was already a collector and researcher of natural specimens (used to make medicine) often obtaining his specimens from sailors just returned from distant seas, exotic beaches and faraway lands.
The book now known as Cabinet of Curiosites is what Seba originally presented as his Thesaurus, the four volumes appearing over a span of thirty years, the first two volumes in 1734 and 1735 and the last two posthumously in 1758 and 1764. This incredible tome, which includes all of his 449 commissioned plates, was reproduced using a rare hand-colored original copy. It is Seba’s greatest achievement, showcasing an array of creatures, some never even dreamed of in his time.
Beware, those who suffer from herpetophobia: there is a veritable rainbow of strange reptiles – snakes in particular (Seba loved his snakes) – as well as a cornucopia of other creatures. This includes fantastical beasts, from a seven-headed Hydra to bizarrely beautiful conjoined animal twins.
There is something about these drawings and engravings that is a bit off. They’re not quite right. The eyes on some of the beasts are a little weird, as well as the proportions. Considering, however, that the illustrations were created using models that were decomposing or even floating – he was using primitive preservation techniques – they are pretty exceptional. I find beauty in their weirdness and imperfections. It makes them more interesting and magical, and for their time, even mythical.