GESSNER, C.

Historiae Animalium Liber III que est de Avium Natura Nunc denuo recognitus?..

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Frankfurt, Johan Wechel for Robert Cambieri, 1585. Folio (367 x 243mm). pp. (12), 806, (26, index).Woodcut on title, woodcut initials, head- and tailpieces and 237 woodcuts of birds (including title), all coloured by a contemporary hand. Contemporary blindstamped pigskin over wooden boards bound at the H[ans] S[chreiber] bindery, front cover with central portrait panel of Johann Georg, Elector of Brandenburg (1525-1598) and the rear cover stamped with his arms, clasps lacking, some minor staining to covers.

Johann Georg, Elector of Brandenburg's (1525-1598) copy of Gesner's splendid work on birds, coloured throughout by a contemporary hand. Second edition of Gesner's Ornithological Magnum Opus. All of the woodcuts in outstanding contemporary publisher's colouring, executed by a professional book illuminator; the palate is rich and varied, using a lot of body colour. Gesner in his preface states that a number of copies with hand-coloured woodcuts were issued 'for customers who are not deterred by the higher price'. Their number was very small indeed, and they scarcely ever appear on the market. There are worm holes throughout affecting text and images, but they do not affect the charm and quality of the engraving and splendid colouring of this copy.

This was part of the greatest zoological encyclopedia of the sixteenth century and the greatest pictorial assembly of zoological illustration of its time. The woodcuts were cut after paintings by Lukas Schan, some of which survive as part of the Felix Patter collection in the Basle University Library. This suite of woodcuts contains the first naturalistic representations of the animal kingdom, and effectively heralds the birth of zoological book illustration. They are the archetypes of much subsequent bird illustrations, even into the eighteenth century.
Conrad Gesner was one of the great polymaths of the Renaissance and his work 'is an encyclopedia of contemporary knowledge, intended to replace not only mediaeval compilations but even Aristotle's work' (PMM 77).

Provenance:18th-century unidentified engraved armorial bookplate; Hallesche Naturforschende Gesellschaft (stamp on verso of title).

Nissen IVB 349; Wellisch A25.2.