Monday, 24 October 2016

Anatomy of a caterpillar’s muscles

H. v. Hirt (19th century illustrator/lithographer)
“Plate 215: Caterpillar Muscles”, c.1830, from Georg August Goldfuss’ (1782–1848) “Naturhistorischer Atlas …” (Naturalist Atlas), published 1824–42, Duesseldorf.
Lithograph in black ink on wove paper (vellin) watermarked “J Whatman”
Size: (sheet) 46.2 x 58.6 cm
Lettered in the plate: (upper left) “CL. VI. INSECTA. / ll ANATOM.”; (upper right) “215.”; (lower centre) “Muskeln der Weidenraupe.”; annotated with letters, numerals and symbols within and alongside the three images.
For a slightly different version of this lithograph published by Goldfuss, see the impression at the The Prints Collector:

Condition: crisp impression in very good condition but with a few signs of use (i.e. light dustiness and minor marks).

I am selling this huge 19th century lithograph illustrating the musculature of caterpillars for the total cost of AU$92 (currently US$70.23/EUR64.49/GBP57.36 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. If you are interested in purchasing this amazing curiosity of a print, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make your payment easy.

This print has been sold

Collectors often purchase the most bizarre subjects and this 19th century lithograph of a caterpillar’s muscles should win a prize for being an extremely curious subject. I guess I should have known that caterpillars had muscles but the idea never seemed to dawn upon me until I saw this print.


Sometimes I can be very lucky.

I have been fortunate to receive two marvellous emails from Professor Stan Rachootin (Biological Sciences at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA USA.) regarding background information about this curiously interesting print.

The first email that I received gives a broad understanding of the print and, thanks to Prof Rachootin’s kind permission, I can offer the following insight:

“Goldfuss's lithograph is based on of P. Lyonnet ‘s (or Lyonet) originals (Traité anatomique de la chenille qui ronge le bois de saule 1750).  Lyonnet traced thousands of muscles, nerves, and branches of the tracheal trees of the caterpillar of the goat moth.   He apologized for having caused the deaths of 12 caterpillars in order to produce the drawings.

Goldfuss bases several prints on Lyonnet. They are reversed from the originals and take some liberties with the details that are Lyonnet’s claim to fame. Lyonnet also produced images of hundreds of different kinds of scales from the wings and body of the adult goat moth—these were published decades after his death.”

The second email that I received is fascinating as it is a direct quotation on Lyonet from J R Baker (Baker, John R. 1952. Abraham Trembley Scientist and Philosopher 1710-1784. Edward Arnold & Co. London):

            “The illustrations to the Mémoires [Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'un genre de polypes d'eau douce,1744], other than the vignettes, were all drawn by Trembley’s friend Lyonet, who it will be remembered, was one of those who confirmed Bonnet’s work on parthenogenesis in plant lice (p. 21).  It may be remarked here that he was the first to prove that plant-lice, which are viviparous during the summer, lay eggs in autumn that survive until Spring.  Lyonet had been born at The Hague of French parents. He was a lawyer by education, and a brilliant linguist; he acted as cipher-secretary and confidential translator to the Dutch government. In May 1743, Lyonet showed some of his drawings to Wandelaar, the celebrated Dutch engraver. The latter was struck by their beauty, and formed the opinion that Lyonet could excel also at engraving. Lyonet went to Leiden the next month to work in Wandelaar’s house. Here, for the first time in his life, he handled the engraver’s burin. He engraved a dragonfly, and his first work could easily have been taken for that of a master. He then engraved three butterflies. With no further education in the subject, he proceeded at once to engrave his own drawings of Trembley’s polyps.  Plates 1-5 of the Mémoires had already been engraved from his drawings by another hand: Plates 6-13 were both drawn and engraved by himself. Trembley had the greatest admiration for his skill as an observer and draughtsman. “It was sufficient for me to put subjects before Monsieur Lyonet’s eyes, he wrote, “and he saw everything that it would have difficult to indicate to others.” Comment on the extraordinary talent would be unnecessary: the reader has only to refer to the figures copied from his drawings and engravings into the present work.
         Lyonet went on the even higher distinction in his art. He was as skilled in minute dissection and observation as in drawing and engraving. He made an elaborate study of the anatomy of the larva of the goat-moth, Cossus ligniperda. This larva feeds on the solid wood of willow and certain timber-trees; its pungent smell gives the common name to the species. As a study in minute anatomy, for detailed accuracy of description and illustration, Lyonet’s work on this subject has probably never been surpassed.” (pp. 40–41)

 Following this quote Prof Rachootin gave me one further gem: “In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 5th ed 1810, it is stated that the Lyonet’s lesson with Wandelaar lasted one hour. Article on Lyonet” and proposed that “a visit to ‘Jan Wandelaar’ on Google Images will bring up some familiar images...”

My sincere thanks to Prof Rachootin for his wonderful insights.

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