Konrad Gesner. Historia animalium. Zurick, 1575.


Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) was arguably the greatest naturalist of his age. Between 1551 and 1558, Gesner published a four-volume masterwork, the History of Animals. He incorporated observations of both classical scholars, relying heavily on a bestiary, Physiologus, likely dating from the fourth century AD, and his contemporaries. His work was possible in a large part due to the web of correspondence he established with leading naturalists throughout Europe who, in addition to their ideas, sent him plants, animals and gems. At a time of extreme religious tension (his own Protestantism added History of Animals to the Catholic Church's Index of prohibited books), Gesner maintained friendships on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide. Gesner’s extensive use of illustration was unusual for the period. The beautiful woodcuts were produced by the artist Lucas Schan of Strasbourg.