Biology & Natural History

Goedart, Johannes | De Insectis [Metamorphosis Naturalis]

  • The uncommon second Latin edition of this “extremely important and influential study” (Jorink, Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, p. 201), the translation by Fellow of the Royal Society Martin Lister, with his notes and addendum on English species. Originally published in three volumes under the title Metamorphosis Naturalis between 1660 and 1669.

    The Dutch painter Johannes Goedart (also spelled Goedaert; 1617-1668) was the first European to “embark on a systematic study of the generation of insects” (Jorink, “Between Emblematics and the ‘Argument from Design’, Early Modern Zoology, p. 156). Beginning in the 1630s, he painstakingly traversed the countryside around his home in Middelburg, collecting caterpillars and other insect larvae, raising them in glass jars, and carefully observing their “strange transformations”.

    Although Goedart did not make any major scientific advances in entomology or taxonomy - he interpreted his observations within the framework of his religion and was a strong supporter of spontaneous generation - his work is significant for the emphasis it placed on metamorphosis at a time when other natural historians focused on insect life stages in isolation from each other. Additionally, Goedart was innovative in his choice of subjects, including, among the 150-plus species he described, previously neglected groups such as flies, bumblebees, wood lice, and moths out of the conviction that none of God’s creatures were to be “despised, but that they are all disposed well and with ineffable wisdom”. Also appealing are his detailed and well-executed plates, which depict all the stages of each insect’s life-cycle together.

    Though Goedart’s work was criticised by scientists such as Swammerdam, it proved extremely popular among collectors and artists. “Metamorphosis was accessible, entertaining, and attractively illustrated… the work was very widely distributed and was often translated and cited. It was common in Dutch collections of books, but was also popular outside the Netherlands… Goedaert provided a particularly strong impulse for the study of other insects than the usual bees, ants, and butterflies. His accessible books conveyed the same message as the works of Hoefnagel and Aldrovandi, but the contents and distribution of the latter raised their threshold much higher… It is probably to a large extent due to Goedaert that the study and collecting of these creatures began to enjoy a rapidly growing popularity after 1660. Insects, which had been viewed ambivalently since time immemorial, were slowly but surely becoming acceptable in polite society” (Jorink, Reading the Book of Nature, pp. 208-209). This volume is a particularly nice, unsophisticated copy in contemporary vellum with an attractive hand-written title on the spine.

  • in Methodum Redactus; cum Notularum Additione. Opera M. Lister, e Regia Societate Londinensi. Item Appendicis ad Historam Animalium Angliae, Ejusdem M. Lister, Altera Editio Scarabaeorum Anglicanorum quibusdam Tabulis mutis. London: S. Smith, 1685. Octavo (180 x 115 mm). Contemporary limp vellum folded over at the fore-edge, handwritten title to spine, edges of text block red speckled. 21 folding engraved plates depicting numerous insects on each plate. Marks, spots, and dulling of the vellum, spine may have been cleaned in the past, hinges a little cracked but holding firm, light spotting and toning at the edges of the leaves, closed tear to the final plate in the addendum which depicts mussels A very good, unsophisticated copy.