Gessner's Encyclopedia of Birds –Bound in Contemporary Pigskin

Gessner, Conrad (1516-1565)

Vogelbuch, darinn die Art, Natur unnd Eigenschafft aller Vöglen, sampt irer waren Contrafactur angezeigt wirdt : allen Liebhabern der Künsten, Artzeten, Maleren, Goldschmiden, Bildschnitzeren, Seydenstickeren, Weydleüten unnd Köchen, nit allein lustig zu erfaren, sunder gantz nutzlich und dienstlich zebrauchen, erstlich durch Doctor Conradt Geßner in Latin beschrieben, neüwlich aber durch Rudolff Heüßlin mit Fleyß in das Teütsch gebracht unnd in eine kurtze Ordnung gestelt.

Zürich, Christoph Froschauer, 1582


Folio: 37.5 x 23.5 cm. [6], CCLXI, [1] lvs. Collation: a6, A6, b-z6, A-T6, V4, X5 (final blank absent)

THIRD GERMAN EDITION (1st 1557, 2nd 1581, both by Froschauer).

Bound in contemporary blind-tooled pigskin in excellent condition, with only light soiling and wear, and with both clasps preserved. A fine copy internally with some occasional light toning. Illustrated with 219 fine, large woodcuts of birds. An excellent copy in its original Swabian binding by Matthias Gärtner, active in Augsburg from 1563 to 1590. The binder is identified by a roll signed MG (Haebler, I, 152 – EBDB r003484).

A fine copy of the German translation of Conrad Gessner’s landmark book of birds "De avium natura”(1555), the third published volume of his lavishly illustrated encyclopedia of animals, considered “the basis of modern zoology” (Horblit). The book was translated from the Latin by the Zurich clergyman Rudolf Huesli (or Heusslein, 1530-1600). All 217 original woodcuts were reused and supplemented with two woodcuts borrowed from Olaus Magnus’ 'Historia de gentibus septentrionalis' of 1555. The other illustrations, which Gessner considered an essential part of his work, are the work of Hans Asper, Johann Thomas, and Lukas Schrön.

Conrad Gessner’s “Historia Animalium” is a landmark in the study of the animal kingdom. Drawing on a wealth of authorities both ancient and modern and illustrating his works with highly detailed and –to the degree possible- accurate woodcuts of the animals that he described, Gessner set a new standard for zoological literature. His encyclopedia eclipsed all other attempts at a comprehensive work on the subject, displacing Aristotle’s own “Historia Animalium” and substituting for it a tour-de-force of Renaissance humanist science.

Gesner’s work covered “all known animals, including mythical and imaginary beasts, and newly 'discovered' creatures from the far north, the New World, and the East Indies.” The work was first published in four volumes in Zurich, 1551-1558. Vol. 1, “De quadrupedibus viviparis” covered quadrupeds bearing live young; Vol. 2, “De quadrupedibus oviparis”, egg-laying quadrupeds; Vol. 3, “De avium natura”, birds; and Vol. 4, “De aquatilibus”, fish and other aquatic animals. A fifth volume, “de Serpentium natura” on snakes, imaginary serpents, and scorpions, appeared posthumously in 1587

Nissen, IVB, n°350; VD16, G 1736; Horblit, n°39 (for the first edition of Historiæ animalium, « considered the basis of modern zoology »)