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Charles Plumier (1646-1704) and His Drawings of French and Caribbean Fishes

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Theodore Wells Pietsch

Introduction

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1Charles Plumier, a craftsman, illustrator, and engraver, but best known for his work as a botanist, devoted the better part of his life to collecting and illustrating plants and animals. Initially trained in mathematics and the physical sciences, early contact with French and Italian botanists in Rome turned him toward natural history. Observations made along the coasts of Languedoc and Provence, in the French Alps, on the islands of Hyères, and during three expeditions to the West Indies between 1689 and 1697, provided the foundation for an enormous body of iconographic material extant in the collections of the Bibliothèque centrale du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. While his botanical contributions have been described in detail and many of his plant drawings have been published, his influence on zoology has been unexplored and his drawings of animals have remained largely unobserved.

2Plumier’s animal drawings depict a surprisingly wide range of taxa: scyphozoans and polychaetes; insects, a spider, a centipede, a millipede, a scorpion, an amphipod, and decapods; bivalves, gastropods, chitons, and nudibranchs; an asteroid, echinoids, and holothuroids; fishes, both marine and freshwater; frogs, snakes, lizards, turtles, and a crocodile; birds, bats, an opossum, an elephant, a dolphin, and a porpoise. After molluscs (567 drawings), those showing fishes make up the largest portion (345). The fish drawings are unique among the extant zoological illustrations in that Plumier attempted to identify the taxa using the available published literature of the day, providing references to each source by author, title, and figure number. Equally significant is the extent to which Plumier’s fish drawings were used by later authors, such as Marcus Elieser Bloch, Comte de Lacepède, Georges Cuvier, and Achille Valenciennes, who in many cases provided valid post-Linnaean Latinized names for species first described and illustrated by Plumier.

© Publications scientifiques du Muséum, 2017

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