Albertus Seba (1665 -1736)

Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Description (1734–1765)

Plate 104, Hand-colored engraving, 1735

Plate 114, Hand-colored engraving, 1735

Albertus Seba was a famous apothecary, intrepid traveler and a trade member of the Dutch East India Company, but above all else, he was an insatiable collector of natural history specimens and objects.  He amassed an enormous collection of curiosities over the years not only through his own travels, but also by bartering with sailors and explorers - medicine for their exotic finds from distant places.  He sold his entire first collection to Peter the Great in 1717 and immediately began to assemble a replacement collection that eventually dwarfed the first.  The publication of his Thesaurus; “Loccupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Descriptio” in 1734 was an effort to permanently document this new collection.

The designs of the engravings are based on the artful yet scientific display cases and drawers of the actual cabinets that housed the objects of his collection.  Specimens are arrayed by type, but also arranged into aesthetically pleasing motifs.  The symmetry and systems found in nature are mimicked in the compositions of spiny sea urchins, corals, seashells and shellfish.  It is easy to see that Seba’s interest in the diverse objects was not limited to their procurement or acquisition because as much thought and attention went into the display and subsequent documentation of them as well.
Unfortunately, Albertus Seba passed away in 1736 just two years into his venture.  To continue funding the publication of this massive project, Seba’s heirs found it necessary to once again sell the collection, but this time at auction.  As a result, the objects, specimen, fossils etc. were scattered across the globe.  To this day, surviving items can be found among the shelves and storage areas of the world’s best Natural History Museums.  But thanks to Seba’s initial concept of preserving the collection in print, for all time and for all to see, he insured that many future generations would continue to be astonished at its breadth and scope.

Plate 13, Hand-colored engraving, 1734

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