Cornelius Nozeman

15 August 1720 – 22 July 1786

Dutch churchman and naturalist

Cornelius Nozeman, a Dutch minister of the Remonstrant church and an ornithologist, provided the inspiration for this finest Dutch work on ornithology and one of the greatest of all time.

It was a unique collaborative effort of two Dutch masters, and a project of huge scope and ambition, taking over 60 years to complete. The renowned engraver and artist, Christiaan Sepp drew the illustrations and Nozeman wrote the text for the first two volumes.

The first volume was published by Sepp’s son, Jan Christiaan, a bookseller with a strong background in natural history & engraving. In 1775, Christiaan Sepp died and Jan Christiaan completed the second volume. In 1786 Nozeman died, with most of the descriptions for the second volume written (published in 1789). Thus, it was the first two volumes which were directly created by these renowned ornithologists, artists & engravers.

Martinus Houttuyn continued the work for the third volume (published in 1797). Houttuyn died in 1798, and it was not until 1809 that the fourth volume was published, without the name of the writer.

Interestingly enough, the whole venture was completed in 1829 by Jan Sepp, the son of Jan Christiaan with assistance from Coenraad Jacob Temminck. Thus, three generations of the illustrious Sepp family were involved in this project of six decades, a truly remarkable feat.

‘Nederlandsche Vogelen’ was the first comprehensive account of the avifauna of Holland. The plates depict all species known in the Netherlands through the time of publication. The plates frequently feature eggs and nests; a few are dedicated exclusively to these subjects.

Anker’s definitive catalogue of bird books praises the Nozeman publication for depicting the birds ‘in their natural surroundings and as far as possible in their natural attitudes.’ Another major critic, Sacheverell Sitwell, calls this ‘an ornament to the ago of Rococo.’

These super-sized, hand coloured copper plate engravings, superbly composed and meticulously engraved and hand colored were an expensive proposition indeed. Upon the final publication, it was the costliest book ever published, selling for 525 Dutch Florins in 1829 or over $6,000 in today’s currency, a great sum at that time let alone now.

Published in Amsterdam in five volumes over a period of almost sixty years, Nederlandsche Vogelen depicts most of the bird species known in the Netherlands through the time of publication. The ambitious project was initiated by Dutch Remonstrant minister and ornithologist, Cornelius Nozeman. Nozeman partnered with the Sepps, a father and son with expertise in natural science, illustration, printing, publication and bookselling.

They planned a five-volume work including illustrations and descriptive text, each volume to include fifty hand-colored engraved plates, each portraying a single bird species (life-sized if possible). Nozeman wrote the text for Vol. 1 and much of the text for Vol. 2 before his death in 1786, while the elder Sepps, Christiaan (who died in 1775) and his son Jan Christiaan, were responsible for the drawings and engravings.

Following the deaths of Christiaan Sepp and Nozeman, the Sepp family persevered with publication, enlisting the assistance of physician Martinus Houttuyn and later C. J. Temminck. After Jan Christiaan’s own death in 1811, his son Jan Sepp continued work on the fifth volume until completion in 1829.

With many of the 250 plates featuring eggs and nests, and with an elaborately decorated title page to grace each volume, this rare work is well known for its charming illustrations.