Sunday, July 23, 2006


Fabulous Animals, Fabulous Site

I've been reading Erik Nordenskiöld's The History of Biology and have reached the Renaissance (okay, make that slowly reading). The Renaissance thinkers were deeply enamored of Aristotle, even as they laid the foundations for the overthrow of the Scholastic method of appeal to authority rather than observation.

Among the changes in biology in the Renaissance was the rise of purely descriptive biological literature and the use of illustrations. One of the earliest practitioners was Konrad Gesner (1516-1565) and his Historia animalium was widely influential. While he still, as was common in the medieval bestiaries, included literally fabulous animals (such as a sea serpent of ship-eating proportions), his illustrations were often strikingly accurate, as in the case of that fine fellow shown here, chosen in honor of PZ Mierse and his Friday Cephalopods.

The National Library of Medicine has a wonderful reproduction, in color, of Gesner's book that really feels like you are turning the pages (just click on "Turn The Pages" and then on the cover). It also includes audio and written commentary on the text and an enlargement tool that feels like you are using a magnifying glass. Furthermore, there is a Gallery of images where many of the illustrations can be found in a format that allows for even greater enlargement for even closer study.

Other works in this format include Ambroise Paré's Oeuvres, Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica and Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina.

This is one of the best uses of the web I've seen.

Thanks for the link! My wife and I are medieval hobbyists (SCA) and getting nice images of documents from before 1600 is always welcome. The interface they have set up is excellent.
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