Iconotypes: A Compendium of Butterflies and Moths; Jones’ Icones Complete

Univ. of California. Nov. 2021. 688p. ed. by Oxford University Museum of Natural History & Richard I. Vane-Wright. ISBN 9780520386501. $85. REF
An unpublished masterpiece of the Enlightenment is made gloriously accessible in this “enhanced facsimile.” It’s the work of William Jones (1745–1818), a wealthy London wine merchant who retired to spend his days studying and painting butterflies and moths. Known as Jones’s Icones, his six-volume manuscript comprised 1,292 individual paintings of 856 butterfly and moth species from around the world; many were being described for the first time. The facsimile is a collaborative effort led by entomologist Vane-Wright (retired, Natural History Museum, London) and Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History. The Icones facsimile is enhanced by maps showing species’ habitats; tables sorting taxonomic details; and selections from Jones’s notebooks, elaborating his thought and method. In addition to Vane-Wright’s introductory biography of Jones and concluding remarks on the legacy of the Icones, essays by experts provide helpful context. Topics include the development of lepidopterology and taxonomy after Linneaus; the roles of collectors and natural history artists in this period; the art of painting butterflies; and the current conservation status of lepidoptera. Readers will be transported to a time before the arts and sciences were clearly separated and learn how an amateur naturalist became “an agent in the progress of science.”
VERDICT A book as lovely as the creatures it depicts. There’s much here for specialists (lepidopterists; art historians) but lay readers too can savor an astonishingly beautiful “pre-industrial butterfly world.”
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