Conrad Gesner or Geßner was a Swiss naturalist very respected in his time and in the centuries that followed. Many consider him the father of modern zoology due to his Historiae animalium, more than 4500 pages in five volumes. The first four, devoted to mammals (Quadrupedes vivipares), herps (Quadrupedes ovipares), birds (Avium natura) and aquatic fauna (Piscium & aquatilium animantium natura) were published between 1551 and 1558, and the last, dedicated to snakes and scorpions was posthumous. The first four volumes were translated into German in 1563 under the title Thierbuch. It’s one of the first natural history works that include colour illustrations of animals and their environment and the first that includes fossils.
Gesner studied in many European towns: Strasburg,
Basel, Montpelier or Bourges, in addition to . He’s the first author to give a
unequivocal and clear depiction of Northern Bald Ibis. Zurich
Gesner’s engraving represents a young NBI in a realistic way. We can here see reproductions of the Latin and German editions.
Conrad Gesner died of plague at the age of 49 during one of the epidemics that followed the great pandemic called the black death.
Those interested in Gesner’s work can find his work scanned in the web. The third volume, Avium natura, is here.
Pope Gregory XIII will always be remembered for commissioning and being the namesake for the Gregorian Calendar, conceived to avoid Christmas being celebrated in summer. During his time, he was better known for his political activity, being behind many religious plots, including St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres of Huguenots (August, 24th, 1572) and wars involving most catholic kingdoms against Othoman Empire and England.
Nevertheless, his cousin was Ulisse Aldrovandi’s mother, and this allowed this naturalist from
to be reinstated in his public offices (he was suspended for a dispute with the
official University authorities) and to request financial aid to help him
publish his books. In the volatile religious atmosphere of his time, he was
also arrested for heresy. He didn’t travel too much and spent most of his life
in Bologna ,
where he died at the age of 82. Bologna
Turning the page we find a surprise. Aldrovandi took the image from Gesner’s Corvus sylvaticus, as if it was a different species. The print is a mirror image of the original, which is normal when you copy to a woodcut or a copperplate, that is printed in turn the other way round.
Obviously, the inclusion of two versions of NBI in a volume, particularly one dedicated to web-footed birds is really quite odd.
Keeping in mind the means available at that time, it’s logical that authors copied each other and that, in some cases, they tried to guess whatthe previous author was describing. Aldrovandi identified Gesner’s ibis as another species, probably because this was a juvenile, with its feathered face, which presumably caused the mistake. But Aldrovandi cites also Bellonius, who is no other than Pierre Belon. This French naturalist published, also in
1555, L'Histoire de la nature des oyseaux considered one of the first works of comparative anatomy. Among other quotations of Belon, Aldrovandi includes in chapter LVI another Phalacrocorax , this time Phalacrocorax Bellonii. However, this time it is a web-footed bird. The illustration is quite confusing.