D’Orbigny’s Iconography (Saint-Malo 1770 – La Rochelle 1856)
The drawings are presented on this website as they stood when they were discovered on the sheets of the album, known as the “Iconography”, made towards 1849 by Charles-Marie Dessalines d’Orbigny (Saint-Malo, 1770 – La Rochelle, 1856). They still bear all the marks of their incorporation into this vast collection of around 5000 pictures of diverse origins.
Thus it is not rare to observe the pin that is still used to fix the drawing next to other pictures on a sheet, or even the stain of rust that reveals the place of a former pin. On the picture of the spotted Redshank (n°30) that takes a whole sheet, d’Orbigny took advantage of the space left next to the bird’s legs to pin a colored engraving which is not Audubon’s.
This concern to save space and paper is also revealed by the cuts on most drawings. In so doing, d’Orbigny tried to display as many pictures as possible on each sheet. Consequently he certainly got rid of or shortened a great number of Audubon’s notes about his drawings.
The biggest drawings bear the marks of the folds made by d’Orbigny to make them fit into his Iconography. The dirty marks, the bleedings of colors reveal the numerous manipulations made by those who came to consult this disparate zoological encyclopedia during 150 years, before the author of these drawings, Audubon, was belatedly identified.
Apart from the Human Being and his anatomy, the pictures of the Iconography represent the animals of the world known at that time. D’Orbigny collected those pictures all along his life and most likely gathered them into an album at the end of his life, classifying them according to Cuvier’s classification of animal species at the beginning of the XIXth century.
D’Orbigny most probably received young Audubon’s drawings just before his definitive move away from France in 1806. D’Orbigny then took them along with him until he arrived in La Rochelle. Doctor d’Orbigny played a major role in this town by creating the Regional Museum of Natural History, for which he was curator during 18 years, now joined with the “Musée Lafaille” so as to make the Museum of Natural History of La Rochelle. He definitely contributed to the creation of the Society of Natural Sciences in 1836, became his archivist and kept it going until his death in 1856.