Historia Naturalis: De Piscibus et Cetis

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Codiology

Type
Extent / Format

314 pages / 38.0 x 22.0 cm

Origin
Date
1649
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

Author: Johannes Jonstonus (John Jonston) (1603 - 1675)
Engraver: Matthaeus Merian The Younger (1621 - 1687)

Illustrations

47 copperplate engravings representing over 500 fishes and cetaceans

Short description

In the middle of the 16th century, the Polish doctor and Renaissance man John Jonston wrote an encyclopedic overview of the history of animals, which was considered to be the standard work of zoology for a century. His Historia naturalis animalium collects numerous descriptions of animals in five books. Tables with wonderful copperplate engravings by Matthäus Merian the Younger illustrate the zoological work. In the first volume of the work, which arose in the year 1650, Jonston concerns himself with fish and aquatic mammals. This “most broadly disseminated zoological handbook” experienced numerous republications and translations into other languages, still offering a magnificent and often curious glimpse into the world of zoology today.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Historia Naturalis: De Piscibus et Cetis

In the middle of the 16th century, the Polish doctor and Renaissance man John Jonston wrote an encyclopedic overview of the history of animals, which was considered to be the standard work of zoology for a century. His Historia naturalis animalium collects numerous descriptions of animals in five books. Tables with wonderful copperplate engravings by Matthäus Merian the Younger illustrate the zoological work. In the first volume of the work, which arose in the year 1650, Jonston concerns himself with fish and aquatic mammals. This “most broadly disseminated zoological handbook” experienced numerous republications and translations into other languages, still offering a magnificent and often curious glimpse into the world of zoology today.

Exotic Fish and Huge Whales

On 314 pages and with a total of 47 copperplate engravings, the first volume of John Jonston’s Historia Naturalis presents more than 500 fish and sea creatures. Subdivided into 5 chapters, e.g. saltwater fish, freshwater fish, fish that live in stony waters, fish that live closer to the shore, or exotic fish, the work offers a simultaneously scientific and entertaining overview. Alongside the pages of text with detailed descriptions, the pages with numerous depictions of a variety of fish are particularly amazing. The depicted animals are sometimes very curious. On one page, for example, Jonston also presents anthropomorphic figures with fishtails and human heads. One fish wears a horn on its forehead, another frightens with a savage mouth. One page is filled with the depiction of a huge, beached whale, which a group of people gaze at as an attraction. The last chapter of descriptions of fish is concerned with dolphins and aquatic mammals. Seals and walruses were also associated with fish – dolphins to be more precise.

The Renaissance Man John Jonston

As the first volume of the Historia naturalis animalium, the de piscibus etcetis contains a foreward with which Jonston introduces his magnum opus. This is dated in the year 1649. In the text, the author clarifies his motives and purposes and names his sources from ancient and contemporary authors. John Jonston (1603-1675) was the son of Scottish parents, a doctor, and a Renaissance man from Poland. Through tours and visits of study across all of Europe, John collected a general knowledge that encompassed a variety of disciplines, which he transmitted as a tutor and tour guide to young nobles. He was famous nevertheless through his scientific-pedagogical writings concerning such diverse topics as child-rearing, philosophy and theology, history, but also medicine and mineralogy, all before the famous Historia Naturalis.

Standard Work of Zoology

For his incomplete magnum opus, Jonston planned a comprehensive illustrated depiction of the world of animals, plants, and people. The Historia Naturalis Animalium was printed from 1650 to 1653 in the publishing house of Matthäus Merian the Younger in Frankfurt am Main. Merian (1621-1687), who took over the famous atelier of his father Matthäus Merian the Elder, as copperplate engraver was also responsible for the artistic design of the editions. The marvelous illustrations, colorfully illustrated moreover, lend the sophisticated publication its final touches and are surely a reason for the exceptional popularity of the Historia Naturalis across Europe.

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