The Mineralogical Record
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Conrad Gesner
(1516-1565)

Conrad Gesner was born in Zurich, the son of a furrier with many children and little money. Although his father was killed in battle fighting for the Protestant cause when Gesner was only 15, he nevertheless received a good classical education, and at first planned to enter the ministry. But his strong interest in natural science diverted him onto another path. In 1533 he was awarded a traveling scholarship, and spent two happy years in self-directed study in Bourges and Paris. He then traveled first to Strasbourg and then to Basle, Switzerland where he earned his doctorate in 1541. He finally settled in Zurich where he continued to pursue his interests in botany, zoology and medicine.

Gesner published over 70 books in his lifetime, plus 18 more that were still in manuscript form at the time of his death. He had been influenced by Agricola's work on mining and ore mineralogy, and in the early 1560's decided to expand his activities to include mineralogy. He assembled a mineral collection which he used as the basis for illustrations commissioned from hired artists (whose names have long since been lost to history). In 1565 he published the first illustrated book on minerals, De omni rerum fossilium, actually an anthology of eight short books on various mineralogical topics by different authors. The illustrations shown here, which are the earliest known examples of mineral specimen art (except for the engraving of gypsum crystals in Jacob Meydenbach's (q.v.) Hortus sanitatus of 1491), are from that extremely rare book, a copy of which is in the Mineralogical Record Library. It was Gesner's intention to later publish a more thorough volume on minerals, which would surely have been large and magnificently illustrated, but he contracted the plague that same year and died at the age of 49. His mineral collection survives today, at least in part, and is incorporated into the collection of the Natural History Museum of Basle.

W.E.W.

Reference:
Wilson, W. E. (1994) The history of mineral collecting, 1530-1799. Mineralogical Record, 25, 23-24.

Click on thumbnail picture to see larger image.
Number of artworks found: 8 | Artworks being viewed: 1 to 8

The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Wire Silver ( Wire Silver ("Argenti Fruticatione")
Woodcut engraving, 1 x 2 inches (1565), published in De omni rerum fossilium.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Quartz Crystals and a Faceted Quartz Quartz Crystals and a Faceted Quartz
Woodcut engraving, 1.7 x 1.7 inches (1565), published in De omni rerum fossilium.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Amianthus, Tourmaline, and Ammonium Salt Amianthus, Tourmaline, and Ammonium Salt
Woodcut engraving, 1 x 2 inches (1565), published in De omni rerum fossilium. The amianthus (1.) is from Cyprus; the "Brazilian emerald" (2.) is actually a green tourmaline from Brazil; the "hammite" (3.) is natural ammonium chloride.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Pyrite Specimens Pyrite Specimens
Woodcut engraving, 1.6 x 1.6 inches (1565). Published in De omni rerum fossilium.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Ruby and Sapphire Ruby and Sapphire
Woodcut engraving, 1.6 x 1.6 inches (1565). Published in De omni rerum fossilium.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Halite Specimens Halite Specimens
Woodcut engraving, 2.3 x 2.7 inches (1565). Published in De omni rerum fossilium.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Pisolitic Salts Pisolitic Salts
Woodcut engraving, 2.5 x 2.0 inches (1565). Published in De omni rerum fossilium.
The Mineralogical Record: Conrad Gesner - Magnetite Lodestone Magnetite Lodestone
Woodcut engraving, 1.7 x 1.5 inches (1565). Published in De omni rerum fossilium. The specimen is shown with iron filings standing up on the surface and an iron needle.
The Mineralogical Record Museum of Art is is supported entirely by donations from
Kathryn and Bryan Lees, Rob Lavinsky, Wendell Wilson and Susan Robinson.

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