Conrad Gessner Gesner portrait naturalist

Conrad Gessner Gesner portrait naturalist

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Credit: PAUL D STEWART/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Conrad Gesner (or Gessner) Swiss Natural Historian (26th March 1516-13th December 1565). His major four volume work Historiae Animalium (1551-1558) is considered the beginning of modern zoology. In it he summarised knowledge of quadrupeds, birds and fishes. He illustrated (mainly with the artist Lucas Schan) many of the species he described. His illustrations include fantastic monsters, the first recognised fossils, as well as now extinct animals like aurochs, and new species like the bird of paradise. Previously naturalists had relied on the classical texts of ancients such as Pliny for descriptions. Gesner added more recent observations and reports while citing sources. It was a radical departure. The book became one of the most widely read zoology texts, with influence for over 300 years. Gesner died of the plague in 1565, and asked to be taken to die in his beloved library.

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