Written by Lisa Di Tommaso (Special Collections Librarian)
In usual circumstances, most people would be reluctant to describe a blood-sucking fly as beautiful, but when drawn by the Italian illustrator, Amedeo John Engel Terzi, it becomes a surprisingly appropriate term.
Terzi was born in 1872 in Palermo in southern Italy. Both his father and brother worked as artists and Terzi soon followed in their footsteps. In 1900, Terzi joined a field trip to Ostia in the Roman Campagna, led by two tropical disease researchers, Louis Sambon and George Carmichael Low, conducting experiments exploring the relationship between mosquitoes and malaria. Although principally engaged to be the official artist for the expedition, Terzi also joined in the actual experiments, becoming a human guinea pig. Somewhat miraculously, the three men did not contract malaria themselves but many who worked in the open in the same area did, helping to prove the theory that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes.
Terzi travelled to England not long after this field trip, and after a short stint at the London School of Tropical Medicine, he joined the staff at the Natural History Museum where he worked, apart for a short time during the Second World War, for the rest of his working life.
Throughout his tenure at the Museum, Terzi executed a multitude of illustrations, mostly of parasitic insects, including a variety of Diptera (insects with a single pair of wings such as flies and mosquitoes), beetles and weevils. Terzi himself estimated that he completed 37,000 drawings in the course of his career which were published in 55 books and more than 500 other publications.
One of Terzi’s greatest artistic achievements was his depiction of British blood-sucking flies. Large-scale watercolours, these were originally intended to be displayed in the Museum galleries, but they were considered to be of such exceptional quality that they were instead used as plates in Edward E. Austen's Illustrations of British Blood-Sucking Flies (1906). The NHM Library & Archives hold 58 of these drawings in its collections, which were produced over a 30 year period. We also hold many other drawings, sketches and watercolours drawn by Terzi as well as some notes and correspondence.
He was well respected by his colleagues and students of entomology for his accurate and detailed illustrations, and remains so today. A new species Culex terzii was named for Terzi after he recognised it as being different to other similar species. He died in 1956 at the age of 84, leaving an important and lasting legacy to the science of entomology and research into the transmission of disease.