University of Delaware Library

Special Collections

Early Works

The Sixteenth Century

The first printed books with illustrations of animals did not reflect how they actually looked in life and were attempts to illustrate Greek and Roman texts based on descriptions of creatures that the artists had never seen. In fact, many of the animals had lived much earlier and descriptions of them had been translated repeatedly, each time losing more detail.

Pliny, the Elder.
Historia naturale di Caio Plinio Secondo di lingua latina in fiorentina tradocta per . . . Christophero Landino fiorentino. Venetia: per Marchio Sessa & Piero di ravani bersano compagni . . 1516.

Pliny's Natural History was the most important manuscript on the subject from his death in 79 A.D. until the book was first printed in 1469. It influenced all of the other early scientists including Aldrovandi. The Natural History was a compilation of the science of the Classical Period. His most important source was Aristotle, but he collected data from hundreds of authors, both Greek and Roman. Unfortunately, Pliny was uncritical and included a great deal of hearsay data that was later accepted as fact. However, without him, much of the knowledge of the ancients would have been lost.

Ortus sanitatis: de herbis et plantis, de animalibus et reptilibus . . . Strasbourg: Reinhard Beck, anno 1517.

The Hortus sanitatis or the Ortus sanitatis (the origin of health), as it also is known, is in the tradition of medieval herbals. The authorship of this lavishly illustrated herbal is unknown but it is generally believed to have been compiled by its original printer, Jacob Meydenbach. It was first printed in 1491 in Mainz and is the last major medical work to cover medicines only from the Old World. The sections on animals and fish are reminiscent of a medieval bestiary. There are images of harpies, centaurs, mermen, mermaids and unicorns. The qualities of each creature are provided in vivid detail. Although the unknown engraver of the illustrations was a skilled craftsman, the images are not accurate because he did not always fully understand what he was copying from earlier books.


Pietro Andrea Mattioli, 1500-1577.
Petri Andreś Matthioli senensis medici: commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis. Venetiis: Ex Officina Valgrisiana, 1565.

Mattioli was a botanist and his books are considered to be among the best of the sixteenth century herbals. He includes both fish and animals in the herbals and his illustrations of small wildlife are among the most accurate of the period.

The Seventeenth Century

The seventeenth century was the beginning of organized scientific thought in Europe. It was the era of Galileo, Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler. In the seventeenth century, zoology books began to move from bestiaries and mythical beasts into the more rational and organized world of natural science. The most important invention of the seventeenth century in zoology was the microscope, which enabled scientists to see things in a whole new way. The illustration of microscopic discoveries allowed Robert Hooke in Micrographia (1665) to show common insects as never before seen.


Thomas Moffett, 1553-1604.
Insectorum sive minimorum animalium theatrum: olim ab Edoardo Wottono, Conrado Gesnero, Thomaque Pennio inchoatum. Londini: ex officin‚ typographic‚ T. Cotes, 1634.

This is the first natural history book printed in England. Insectorum was based largely on unpublished material gathered nearly a century before by Conrad Gessner (1515-1565), one of the earliest natural history writers. Thomas Penny, an entomologist, owned Gessner's manuscript and added to it for fifteen years. After his death, the manuscript was given to Moffett who completed the work. However, the projected work was not published until thirty years after Moffett's death. The published engravings for Insectorum are among the very few of that era that can be compared to the original drawings because the British Library still holds the original manuscript material.

Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, 1595-1658.
Ioannis Evsebii Neirembergii Madritensis . . . Historia natvrae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI. Distincta. Antverpiae: ex officina Plantiniana B. Moreti, 1635.

Nieremberg, one of several Spanish Jesuits who wrote on natural history, based this work on a manuscript by the explorer Francisco Hernandez, who had traveled to Mexico in 1570. The book presents information about the cultures and wildlife of Mexico, Central and South America, including descriptions of 200 new species of birds.

Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1522-1605?
Vlyssis Aldrouandi Patricii Bononiensis De quadrupedibus. Bononiae: Apud Nicolau[m] Thebaldinum, 1639.

Ullisse Aldrovandi was a true Renaissance man who established one of the most acclaimed curiosity cabinets in European history containing more than 18,000 specimens. By using these specimens, he was able to study and describe the animals and plants in more detail than his predecessors. This work on four- footed animals, published after his death, includes large woodcuts of animals he studied as well as fantastic creatures he had only heard about.

horse man


Arnoldus Montanus, 1625-1683.
Die unbekante Neue Welt; oder, Beschreibung des Welt-teils Amerika, und des Sud-Landes . . . Amsterdam: J. von Meurs, 1673.

The translated title is The New and Unknown World; or Description of America and the Southland . . . Montanus was a Dutch minister and teacher who published a number of books on geography and history and the peoples and cultures of other lands. He brought together and popularized a variety of travel narratives. The book includes maps and city views as well as images of native peoples and animals. Since the work is derived from older travel narratives, it reproduces previous errors. These included descriptions of sightings of mythological beasts.

Francesco Redi, 1626-1698.
Opusculorum pars prior; sive, Experimenta circa generationem insectorum. Amstelaedami: Apud Henricum Wetstenium, 1685-1686.

Redi is best known for his "Experiment circa generationem insectorum," in which he disproves the doctrine of spontaneous generation in insects. The second volume includes Redi's discussion of plants and animals brought back from the Americas and the Indies.

Robert Hooke, 1635-1703.
Micrographia restaurata: or, The Copper-plates of Dr. Hooke's Wonderful Discoveries by the Microscop. London: Printed for and sold by J. Bowles, 1745.

Robert Hooke's famous work on the microscope was published in 1665. It is known for its spectacular copperplate engravings of the miniature world, particularly its fold-out plates of insects, and the text itself reinforces the tremendous power of the new microscope. Micrographia restaurata (restored) was a re-issue of Hooke's original plates with an abbreviated and updated commentary.


University of Delaware Library 181 South College Avenue Newark, DE 19717-5267 USA +1 (302) 831-2229
This page is maintained by Special Collections.

Last modified: 12/21/10

  • UD Library Special Collections  •   181 South College Avenue  •   Newark, DE 19717-5267  •   USA
    Phone: USA +1 302-831-2229  •   ©2014