Albertus Seba

Albertus or Albert Seba (May 12, 1665, Etzel near Friedeburg – May 2, 1736, Amsterdam) was a Dutch pharmacist, zoologist, and collector. Seba accumulated one of the largest cabinets of curiosities in the Netherlands during his time. He sold one of his cabinets in 1717 to Peter the Great of Russia. His later collections were auctioned after his death. He published descriptions of his collections in a lavishly illustrated 4 volume Thesaurus. His early work on taxonomy and natural history influenced Linnaeus.

Albertus Seba showing a lizard in a bottle


View of the Kunstkamera across the Neva.
Title page of the Rerum Naturalium Thesaurus Vol. I

Born in Etzel, Seba moved to Amsterdam as an apprentice and, around 1700, opened a pharmacy near the harbour. Seba asked sailors and ship surgeons to bring exotic plants and animal products he could use for preparing drugs. Seba also started to collect snakes, birds, insects, shells, and lizards in his house.

From 1711, he delivered various medicines to the Russian court in Saint Petersburg and sometimes accepted fresh ginger as payment. Seba promoted his collection to Robert Erskine (1674–1719), the tsar's head physician, and in early 1716 Peter the Great bought the complete collection. In the following several years, Seba managed to develop another collection of natural specimens, which grew more extensive than the first.

Through Seba, Frederik Ruysch—a well-known Amsterdam physician and anatomist—also sold his collection to the tsar. Both collections so expanded Peter's imperial cabinet of curiosities that they led to the establishment of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the construction of a new building for the Kunstkammer, opened in 1728 as the first Russian public museum.[1]

In October 1728, Seba had become a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1734, he had published a Latin "treasury" (thesaurus) of animal specimens with beautiful engravings. Its full title was Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Descriptio et Iconibus Artificiosissimus Expressio per Universam Physices Historiam ("A Careful Description and Exceedingly Artistic Expression in Pictures of the Exceedingly Rich Treasury of Nature Throughout the Entire History of Natural Science"), traditionally shortened and abbreviated in Latin as the Rerum Naturalium Thesaurus ("A Treasury of Nature") or as Seba's Thesaurus. A traditional English version of the name has been A Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, after the early modern cabinets of curiosities. The last two of the four volumes were published after his death (1759 and 1765). Today, an original 446-plate volume is in the collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, Netherlands.[2] Recently, a complete example of the Thesaurus sold for $460,000 at an auction. In 2001, Taschen Books published a reprint of the Thesaurus, with a second printing in 2006.[3]

In 1735, Carl Linnaeus visited Seba twice. Linnaeus found Seba's collection to be useful for the classification system which Linnaeus was developing, and Linnaeus used many of Seba's specimens as holotypes for original descriptions of species.[4] Seba's inclusion of fantastic beasts such as the hydra influenced Linnaeus to include the "Paradoxa", species which may exist but which have not been found, in his Systema Naturae.[5]

Seba himself did not use Linnaeus' taxonomy, as it was published only a year before his death. However, he did organize his Thesaurus by physical similarities, leading to some similarities with Linnaeus' larger project.[3]

In 1752, several years after Seba's death, his second collection was auctioned in Amsterdam. Several objects were purchased by Russia's Academy of Sciences.

Taxa named in honor of SebaEdit

Seba is commemorated in the scientific names of two species and one subspecies of snakes: Ninia sebae, Python sebae, and Oxyrhopus petola sebae.[4]



  1. ^ "Specimens from the Second Collection of Albertus Seba in Poland: the Natural History Cabinet of Anna Jabonowska (1728-1800)" (PDF). Bibliotheca Herpetologica. 6 (2): 16–20. 2006.
  2. ^ 'Schatryke kabinet der voornaamste seldzaamheden der natuur' van Albertus Seba, website Koninklijke Bibliotheek, retrieved 8 June 2022
  3. ^ a b Cabinet of natural curiosities = Das Naturalienkabinett = Le cabinet des curiosités naturelles : Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri, 1734-1765. Willmann, Rainer, 1950-, Rust, Jes, 1963-, Wissemann, Volker., Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Netherlands). Taschen. 2011. ISBN 9783836515832. OCLC 286524743.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Seba", p. 240).
  5. ^ Flora illustrata : great works from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden. Fraser, Susan M.,, Sellers, Vanessa Bezemer. 2014. ISBN 9780300196627. OCLC 875644465.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)

Further readingEdit

  • Driessen, J. (1996), Tsaar Peter de Grote en Zijn Amsterdamse Vrienden. (Dutch)
  • Driessen-Van het Reve, J.J. (2006), De Kunstkamera van Peter de Grote: De Hollandse Inbreng, Gereconstrueerd uit Brieven van Albert Seba en Johann Daniel Schumacher uit de Jaren 1711–1752. (Dutch)
  • Engel, Hendrik (1937), "The Life of Albert Seba", Svenska Linné-Sällskapets Årsskrift, vol. 20, pp. 75–100.

External linksEdit