Image Gallery: Icones Animalium

Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) was a Swiss natural historian whose sixteenth century encyclopaedic work Historiae Animalium attempted to record the zoological world comprehensively. Zoology as a discipline emerged in the Renaissance and this was the first publication of its kind. Historiae Animalium appeared in five volumes between 1551 and 1587 (the last was published posthumously).

Icones Animalium is an abbreviated version of the first two volumes of Historiae - live bearing and egg-laying mammals. It was first published in 1553 and a second edition appeared in 1560.

Icones contains only the woodcuts from Historiae, with minimal text. The woodcuts are crude but typical of the time. The book contains a mixture of both real and mythological creatures. Frequently illustrations were drawn from verbal descriptions as specimens did not always survive the long sea journeys from far off lands. It was an age of discovery where fact and fiction mingled.

The Australian Museum's volume consists of three parts. Icones Animalium, second edition (1560), Appendix to Icones Animalium, first edition (1554) and Nomenclator aquatilium animantium (1560). The third part is a later version of volume four of Historiae which dealt with aquatic animals.

Icones Animalium includes illustrations of a unicorn, a person with bird’s feet and fantastic sea monsters alongside recognisable animals.

Conrad Gesner's name is spelt in several different ways which makes it hard for researchers to locate his work. these are variations of his name: Konrad Gessner, Conrad Gessner, Conrad Geßner, Conrad von Gesner, Conradus Gesnerus, Conrad Gesner.