TRATTAO DELLE ATTINIE by CONTARINI, Nicolo.

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A surprisingly modern approach to taxonomy

TRATTAO DELLE ATTINIE ed Osservazioni sopra alcune di esse viventi nei contorni di Venezia accompagnate da 21 tavole litografiche. Lette all’ ateneo Veneto in varie tornate cominciando dall’ anno 1834. Venezia, nel premiato stabilimento di G. Antonelli.

1844. 4to, pp. [viii], 198, [6] index, errata and author’s note; with 21 lithograph plates, of which 13 are hand-coloured (paper of plates somewhat browned); pp. 97-101 with marginal nick at fore-edge though no loss of text, small paper flaw touching text of p. 183 but no loss of meaning, title-page slightly browned, with some occasional light foxing and soiling throughout but otherwise clean and crisp; with engraved book-plate of Gustav Tassoni on front paste-down; in contemporary half-calf over blue decorative boards, spine ruled and lettered in gilt, joints neatly and discretely repaired, covers a little scuffed and faded, extremities lightly rubbed and bumped; a good copy. Rare first edition of this attractively illustrated treatise on marine biology by the noted Italian naturalist Nicolò Contarini (1780-1849), focusing in particular upon sea anemones (the genera Actiniaria and Anemonia) living in the Venetian region, and considered to be his most notable work.
A largely self-taught and passionate naturalist, Contarini devoted his life to studying Venetian flora and fauna, amassing a large personal collection of specimens, and was one of the first members of the Lombardy Institute of Science, Letters and Arts, for which he publish a number of scholarly articles. As the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani notes, Contarini contributed much to taxonomic classification of the region, and was particularly interested in looking at species not merely in isolation, but in relation to their local environment.
This focus is particularly evident in his studies relating to marine biology, such as the present work on sea anemones. This work of 1844 was the result of decades of study on the subject, and followed on from his earlier memoir of 1841 ‘Memoria sopra una nuova specie di Attinia fatta conoscere da M. Dugés’ published in the ‘Annales des sciences naturelles’. ‘Although presented as a fine-tuning of morphological and physiological research on Actinia and Anemonia genera and the species included in them, the Treaty revealed Contarini’s interest in the organism-physical environment relationships. The environmental perspective took him... beyond a mere morphological and physiological description of these living beings, towards the first tentative approaches to climatological and geographical problems, towards sparse but incisive descriptions of the terrestrial or aquatic habitat, of the soil, of other livings forms near the organism. If Contarini was capable of surprisingly modern observations, the Treaty remained, however, as a work of a passionate cataloguer, concerned above all with giving names to new species, with establishing table of synonyms, with using rigourous definitions’ (google translation of Dizionario). The work includes the first original descriptions for Anemonia cereus and Anemonia cinerea (Paranemonia cinerea), and also includes a lengthy bibliography (pp. 191-198).
On his death, he left his books, entomological and ornithological collections, and herbarium of Venetian plants to the Museo Correr of Venice, and his books and papers are now in the library of the Natural History Museum of Venice.

Bibliography: Nissen, Zoologische Buchillustration, I 376; See https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/nicolo-bertolucci-contarini_%28Dizionario-Biografico%29; OCLC locates copies at USC, Oregon State, Oklahoma, Chicago, Toronto, the Natural History Museum, Birmingham, Oxford, the British Library, the BnF and a small number of European Institutions.

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