GESNER, Conrad (1516-1565)
Historiae Animalium. Liber I. De Quadrupedibus vivipartis
Zürich: Chr. Froschauer, 1551. Folio. , 1104, pp. 80 woodcut illustrations, plus woodcut printer's devices on title and colophon leaves.
Early calf, spine with raised bands in seven compartments, lettered direct in the second, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt
Provenance: Seventeenth century inscription on the title; James Fairfax (booklabel)
First edition of the first part of the greatest zoological encyclopedia of the sixteenth century and the arguably the birth of zoological illustration.
The Historia animalium de quadrupedium viviparis was the first of Gesner's great encyclopaedias of the animal kingdom, and the first systematic treatise on zoology of the Renaissance. Publishing his work separately in four volumes between 1551 and 1558 (with an additional volume on snakes and scorpions published after his death), Gesner aimed to bring together all the existing knowledge on every known animal, with each volume dedicated to a specific type of animal: viviparous quadrupeds (the present); oviparous quadrupeds; birds; and aquatic animals. The illustrations are the first original zoological illustrations and the first naturalistic representations of animals to be published. The author's preface notes that each of the woodcuts is made either from life or after a reliable image from a trustworthy source. Gesner employed artists, including a woodcut of a Rhinoceros by Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, and drew upon existing woodcuts in circulation to illustrate the encyclopedic work. Furthermore, it is thought that Gesner himself produced drawings of specimens from his own natural history collections. Each woodcut is accompanied by a description of the animal and various information such as its habitat, movement, habits, its use (for example medicinal, agricultural, culinary), philological information, and its name in various languages (primarily Latin, Italian, French and German). "Conrad Gesner was one of the great polymaths of the Renaissance. He was a German-Swiss who studied at Basle, Paris and Montpellier, became professor of Greek at Lusanne, and finally professor of medicine at Zurich where he died of the plague. His 'History of Animals' is an encyclopedia of contemporary knowledge, intended to replace not only medieval compilations but even Aristotle's work of the same title ... Although the Historia Animalium does not yet show any recognition of a connexion between different forms of living nature and fails to conform to our modern ideas of biological research, it was a great step forward and remained the most authoritative zoological book between Aristotle and the publication of Ray's classification of fauna in 1693" (PMM).
Nissen ZBI 1549; Adams G532; PMM 77; Wood, p. 356; Oster 637.