Amazing Rare Things

The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery

By David Attenborough; Susan Owens; Martin Clayton; Rea Alexandratos
(Yale University Press, Hardcover, 9780300125474, 224pp.)

Publication Date: September 1, 2007

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From the fifteenth century onwards, as European explorers sailed forth on grand voyages of discovery, their encounters with exotic plants and animals fanned intense scientific interest. Scholars began to examine nature with fresh eyes, and pioneering artists transformed the way nature was seen and understood. In Amazing Rare Things, renowned naturalist and documentary-maker David Attenborough joins with expert colleagues to explore how artists portrayed the natural world during this era of burgeoning scientific interest.


The book focuses on an exquisite selection of natural history drawings and watercolors by Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Mark Catesby, and from the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo—works all held in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Attenborough and his coauthors offer lucid commentary on topics ranging from the 30,000-year history of human drawings of the natural world, to Leonardo’s fascination with natural processes, to Catesby’s groundbreaking studies that introduced Europeans to the plants and animals of North America. With 160 full color illustrations, this beautiful book will appeal to readers with interests that extend from art and science to history and nature.

About the Author

David Attenborough’s distinguished career in broadcasting spans more than 50 years. A pioneer of the nature documentary, he has written and presented nine major television series on virtually every aspect of life on Earth, including most recently Planet Earth. He was knighted in 1985, was created a member of the Order of Merit in 2005, and has received many other awards and honorary degrees. Susan Owens is assistant curator of the Print Room at Windsor Castle. She curated the recent exhibit, Watercolours and Drawings from the Collection of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Martin Clayton is deputy curator of the Print Room at Windsor Castle. He has published extensively on Renaissance art. Rea Alexandratos is coordinator of the Dal Pozzo Catalogue Project.

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