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GESNER, Conrad.

(1516 – 1565)

(Born: Zurich, Switzerland, 26 March 1516; Died: Zurich, Switzerland, 13 December 1565) Swiss polymath.

Gesner received a classical education at Strasbourg, Bourges, Paris and Basel. He became professor of Greek, at the University of Lausanne, 1537-40. Gesner furthered his education by studying medicine at Montpellier and Basel, finally receiving his M.D. from the later in 1541. Became lecturer in Zurich, 1546-67, as well as city physician from 1554. Gesner was a Renaissance scholar, who applied himself to medicine, linguistics, theology, bibliography, geology, zoology, and botany. His many and important botanical and zoological publications brought Gesner wide recognition and a reputation as one of the greatest naturalists of the sixteenth century. Gesner's Bibliotheca Universalis (Zurich, 1545), that lists all Hebrew, Greek, and Latin books known to him in 20 volumes, earned him the title, "Father of Bibliography."

Biographical references: ADB: 9, 107. Barr, Index to Biographical Fragments, 1973: 97. Catalogue of Portraits of Naturalists: 475 [14 portraits listed]. Cleevely, World Palæontological Collections, 1983: 127. DBA: I 388, 17-81; II 444, 412-418; 445, 112-123. Drugulin, Sechstausend Portraits, 1863: nos. 1914-22. DSB: 5, 378-8 [by P.E. Pilet]. Eitner, Quellenlexikon, 1959. Fischer, H., ed., "Conrad Gessner (26.Marz.1516 - 13.Dezember.1565): Leben und Werk". Published as: Neujahrsblatt der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich, zur Erinnerung an den 400. Todestag, der 13. Dezember 1565, des Grossen Zürcher Naturforschers, Universalhistorikers und Arztes Conrad Gessner herausgegeben. Zürich, Leeman, 1966. 152 p., facsimilies. Fueter, Grosse Schweizer Forscher, 1941: 66-8, portrait. Hirsch, Biographisches Lexikon, 1884-8: 2, 538-40. ISIS, 1913-65: 1, 481-2. Jöcher, Gelehrten-Lexikon, 1750-51. Lambrecht & Quenstedt, Catalogus, 1938: 161. Ley, W., "Konrad Gesner, Leben und Werk", Münchener Beyträge zur Geschichte und Literatur, Heft 15/16, (1929), 162 p., illus. Nature and Museum: 95 (1965), 483-94. NDB: 6, 342-5 [by E.K. Feuter]. Poggendorff: 1, cols. 887-8 & 6, ??. Sarjeant, Geologists, 1980: 2, 1083-7, Suppl. 1(1985), 1, 440-1 & Suppl. 2 (1996), 1, 649 [other refs.]. Schrader, Biographisch Lexicon der Tierärtze, 1863. WBI. Wellisch, H., "Conrad Gessner: a bio-bibliography", Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 7, (1975), pt. 2, 151-247, 4 text figs. World Who's Who in Science: 648.

De Omni Rervm Fossilivm Genere, 1565

1. Latin, 1565-6.
De Omni | Rervm Fossi= | livm Genere, Gem- | mis, Lapidibvs, Metallis, | Et Hvivsmodi, Libri Ali- | Qvot, Pleriqve Nvnc | Primvm Editi. | Opera Conradi Gesneri: Quorum Catalo- | gum sequens folium cominet. | [woodcut ornament, two finger rings surrounded by twelve numbered cut gems] | Tiguri, excudebat Iacobus Gesnerus: An- | no M. D. LXV.

8 parts bound in one volume. 8°: a8 A-M8 Aa-Cc8 2a8 b-i8 α-ε8 (α)-(δ)8 †α-†λ8 2Aa-2Cc8 Dd-Yy8 (M8 and i8 blank) ; 176l.; with no page numbers, only signiature marks, woodcut illustration on title, numerous woodcuts in text, woodcut printers device on the reverse of the last leaf. Page size: 165 x 100 mm.

Contents: Folios: [a1], Title page, verso blank.; a2, "Hoc Volvmine | continentur, | ..."; a3r-a5r, "Ornatissimo | Viro, Medico Et Phi- | losopho, Conrado Gesnero, Iohan- | nes Kentmanus Dresdensis, ar- | tium & Medicinæ Do- | ctor, S.D."-dated 8 November 1565.

[A: Kentmann's Catalogvs Rerum Fossilivm].; [a5v], Description of the 26 principal classes.; [a6r], Woodcut of mineral cabinet.; [a6v]-[a8r], Title and table of contents.; [a8r], Woodcut ornament showing Kentman's profile.; A1r-M7v, Text.; [M8rv], Blanks.

[B: Kentmann's Calcvlorvm Qvi In Corpore].; 2A1rv, Title page, verso blank.; 2A2r-2A2v, "Ornatissimo | Viro, Pietate, Erv- | ..."; 2A3r-2C8r, Text.; 2C8v, Blank.

[C: Fabricus' De Metallicis Rebvs].; 2a1r, Title page.; 2a1v, Table of contents.; 2a2r-2a3r, Epistola, dated 1566.; 2a3v-2a8v, b1r-d8v, e1r-e2v, Text.

[D: Goebel's De Succino Libri Duo].; e3r-e3v, Title page, verso blank.; e4r-e4v, "Reverendissimo Prin- | cipi Ac Domino, Domino | ..."-signed Seuerinus Goebel, 4 March 1558.; e5r-i7v, Text.; i8rv, Blanks.

[E: Cordus' Simesusii de Halosantho].; α1rv, Title page, verso blank.; α2r-α4r, Epistola, dated July M.D. LXVI [1566].; α4v-α8v, β1r-ε8v, Text.

[F: Epiphanius' Sancti Patris Epiphanii].; (α)1rv, Title page, verso blank.; (α)2r-(α)3v, Epistola.; (α)4r, " His scriptis offertur mihi locus di | ..."; (α)4v, "ΤΟΥ ΕΝ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ".; (α)5r-(γ)3r, Text, with Latin on the recto side and Greek on the verso.; (γ)3v, "Corollarivm | Conradi Gesneri | in Epiphanij de XII. gem- | mis libellum."; (γ)4r-(δ)8r, Text of commentary.; (δ)8v, Blank.

[G: La Rue's De Gemmis Aliquot].; τα1rv, Title page, verso "Avthores In His | libris citati."; τα2r-τα2v, Table of contents.; τα3r-τκ3v, Text.; τκ4r-τκ8r, "Ad Lectorem."; τκ8v-τλ7v, Epistola.; τλ8r, "Alardvs Rvevs Etiam- | ..."; τλ8v, Blank.

[H: Gesner's De Rervm Fossilivm].; 2Aa1rv, Title page, verso blank.; 2Aa2r-2Aa5r, "Nobili Viro | D. Andreae Schadco- | uio, salinarum cracouiensium no- | tario, patriæ decori, Conradus | Gesnerus Heluetius | S.D."-dated 1565.; 2Aa5v-2Aa7v, Preface.; 2Aa8r-2Cc8v, Dd1r-Yy8r, Text.; Yy8v, Printer's device.

Very scarce, perhaps rare in complete copies. This very important sixteenth century work is a collection of eight separate tracts most with their own title page by seven authors all edited and several with commentary by Gesner. The volume contains an early illustrated work that deals solely with fossils, metals, minerals, and gems, as well as the earliest catalog of a mineral collection. Therefore, this work had a substantial rôle to play in the development of mineralogy and gemology.

The printing history of this collected work is a difficult bibliographic problem. Each of the included works is known to exist as its own separate volume, including Kentman's Catalogvs, which does not have a title page. Furthermore, complete collections of these tracts as described here are a rarity. Usually, defects are present in one or more of the individual works, or sometimes complete sections are absent from the collection. This suggests that the collected volume was assembled from the remaining stock of the various treatises by the publisher. Below are given the details of the individual works that are contained in the volume.

{[A]. KENTMANN, Johann.}

Catalogvs Rerum | fossilivm Io. Kentmani numerus fo- | lij pvncto præeunte, faciem prio- | rem indicat:sequente, po- | steriorem.

8°: [a5v]-[a8v] A-M8; 99.5l.; [3.5], 96 f., last folio blank. The half leave is a result of the work starting on the verso of leave a5.

This early catalog describes the "fossils" or "things dug from the earth" collected by Johannes Kentmann. Although some petrified remains of animal and plants are included in the descriptions, it is essentially a portrait of a fifteenth century mineral collection. This treatise is therefore the earliest work to catalog mineralogical items in their own right.

The text gives a detailed inventory of 1,608 individual specimens, with an unusual feature for the period of providing accurate locality information for each sample described. As would be expected, over 1,100 of the specimens originated from the region around Saxony where Kentmann flourished. Yet a suprising aspect are the 472 specimens described as having come from foreign lands. This indicates the vigor and great expense Kentmann used to acquire material for his ever growing collection. Unfortunately, none of the specimens was illustrated. However, a major novelty of the work was a woodcut illustration of the actual mineral cabinet used to store the collection. The picture shows thirteen drawers that were used to segragate the specimens. This closely follows the method of classification outlined in the text.

The system devised by the author is based principally on the work of Georg Agricola, but modified and enlarged upon Gesner's insistance. It consists of twenty-six major divisions with headings such as earths, stones, flourites, hard-bodied minerals, marbles, ores of gold, silver, copper and lead, pyrites, antimony, iron, etc. Each division was then subdivided according to the kind of species. For example, this separation included male and female loadstone, which respectively, attracted or repeled iron particles. A good modern translation and analysis of Kentmann's work is provided in Prescher, H., J. Helm and G. Fraustadt, "Johannes Kentmanns Mineralienkatalog, aus dem Jahre 1565," Abhandlungen des Staatlichen Museums für Mineralogie und Geologie zu Dresden, 30 (1980), 5-152.

{[B]. KENTMANN, Johann.}

Calcvlorvm | Qvi In Corpo= | Re Ac Membris Ho- | minum innascuntur, genera XII. | depicta descriptaqz, cum Hi- | storijs singulorum ad- | mirandis: | Per Io. Kentmanvm | Dresdensem Medicum. | [ornament] | Tigvri, 1565.

8°: Aa-Cc8; 24l.; [2], 22 f., last page blank, 10 woodcuts.

An early, illustrated tract describing the various stones found in the human body. It is perhaps the first description and illustration of gall and kidney stones.

{[C]. FABRICIUS, Georg.}

De Metallicis | Rebvs Ac | Nominibvs Ob= | Servationes Variae | & eruditæ, ex schedis Georgij Fabri- | cij: quibus ea potissimùm ex- | plicantur, quæ Georgius | Agricola præ- | terijt. | [ornament] | Tigvri M.D.LXV.

8°: a-d8 e2; 34l.; [3], 31 f.

This short treatise describes the noble and base metals. It consists of eleven chapters that describe gold, silver, lead, copper, tin and the like. Much of Fabricus' commentary is based upon the earlier writings of Georgius Agricola.

{[D]. GOEBEL, Severin.}

De Svccino | Libri Dvo, Avthore | Seuerino Gœbelio, Medi- | co Doctore. | Horvm Prior Liber | continet piam commonefactionem, de passio- | ne, resurrectione, ac beneficijs Christi, | quæ in historia Succini de- | pinguntur. | Posterior veram de origine Succini ad- | dit sententiam. | [ornament] | Tetrastichon in hos libros Conradi | Gesneri Tigurini. | [...4 lines of text in Greek...].

8°: e-i8; 33l.; [2], 31 f., f 30 repeated twice, hence last f should read "31".

One of the earliest treatises on amber containing in its first section strange religious references while the second section describes the origin of amber based upon earlier writers. In the first part, Goebel attributes the many forms, shapes, and inclusions of amber to divine influence and proclaims it to be proof of Christianity. In the second part, he believes amber to be a type of hardened bituminous petroleum, formed inside the earth and subsequently bleed out to the sea floor. Sinkankas (1993) notes other editions appeared in 1566, 1558, 1582 and 1616.

{[E]. CORDUS, Valerius.}

Valerii | Cordi Simesv= | sii De Halosantho | Sev Spermate Ceti Vvl- | go Dicto, Liber, Nvnc | Primvm In Lvcem | Æditvs. | [ornament] | Tigvri M. D. LXV.

8°: a-f8; 40l.; [3], 37 f.

Cordus' postumonus work for which Gesner wrote the preface and commentary. This monograph examines "efflorescences" of salt found floating on the sea, which had come to the notice of ancients Galen and Dioscorides. They prescribed it for relief from skin diseases. Gesner in his commentary which is as long as the treatise itself, refutes the popular belief that these salts were the sperm of whales, and instead attributes the phenomena to salt crystals falling out of the brine solution. A curious medical and mineralogical treatise, with an amusing link to whales.


Sancti | Patris E= | piphanii Epi= | scopi Cypri Ad Dio- | dorum Tyri episcopum, De XII. | Gemmis, quæ erant un veste Aaronis, | Liber Græcus, & è regione Latinus, | Iola Hierotarantiano interprete: | cum Corollario Conra- | di Gesneri. | [ornament] | Tigvri M. D. LXVI.

8°: (α)-(δ)8; 32l.; [4], 28 f., last page blank.

This treatise considers the twelve gemstones contained in the breastplate of Aaron, the High Priest of the Jews and founder of the Jewish priesthood. It is perhaps the earliest printed work to treat the subject, although many earlier manuscripts existed. It is in the form of a letter from Ephphanius to his friend, Diodorus, Bishop of Tyre, and discusses the jewels set in the breastplate (Exodus 28, 17-20). These stones are: sard, topaz, emerald, carbuncle, sapphire, jasper, lyncurius, agate, amethyst, chrysolite, beryl and onyx. Appended is a short essay describing Biblical mentions of the diamond. Gesner's commentary at the conclusion discusses the stones, with a diagram showing their positions. Sinkankas (1993) for a list of other editions.

{[G]. LA RUE, Francios.}

De Gemmis | Aliqvot, Iis | Præsertim Qvarvm. | Diuus Ioannes Apostolus in sua Apocalypsi | meminit: De aliis quoque, quarum vsus hoc | æui apud omnes percrebruit, Libri duo: Theo | logis non minùs vtiles quàm Philosphis, & omnino felicioribus ingenijs periucundi, è non | vulgaribus vtriusque philosophiæ adytis de- | prompti: authore Francisco Rueo, | Doctore medico Insu- | lano. | Editio secunda. nam prima mutila, & in- | scio authore edita fuerat. | [ornament] | Tigvri M. D. LXV.

8°: †α-†λ8; 87l.; [2], 85 f., misnumbered because f2 is repeated.

This lapidary is the second edition of a work first published at Paris in 1547. The first book describes the origin of gemstones, their virtuous properties, the reasons behind their powers citing numerous earlier writers as authorities, but always stressing that God has the ability to impart such phenomena to stones. The second book is descriptive in nature, treating the characteristics and physical and mystical properties of individual gemstones, including jasper, sapphire, ruby, emerald, beryl, topaz, opal, amber, diamond, etc. Thorndike considers the work to be "... a compendium of past lore with little or nothing in the way of personal observation or classification." Sinkankas (1993) provides a description of the other editions.

{[H]. GESNER, Conrad.}

Conradi Gesneri | De Rervm | Fossilivm, La= | Pidvm Et Gemmarvm | maximè, figuris & similtudinibus Li- | ber; non solum Medicis, sed omnibus | rerum Naturæ ac Philolgiæ | studiosis, vtilis & iuncun- | dus futurus. | [ornament] | Cum Gratis & Priuilegio S.Cæs.Maie= | statis ad annos VII. | Tigvri M. D. LXV.

8°: Aa-Yy8; 176l.; [7], 169 f., last page with printer's device, 72 woodcuts.

This work is especially interesting as presenting a picture of the mineral kingdom as seen from the viewpoint of the greatest naturalist of his time. It marks a deliberate departure from earlier medieval lapidaries in that little or no comment is made of the miraculous virtues attributed to minerals. Instead, Gesner describes the characters by which they may be identified. Gesner writes that this work was written rapidly for his own pleasure and recreation and that a more detailed treatment would follow, so that students would be stimulated and encouraged to study minerals, fossils and stones. However, Gesner died of plague shortly after this treatise was published, and the larger work never appeared.

Gesner writes that De Rerum Fossilium is the first work on its subject to be illustrated by cuts and figures. Adams (1938) notes this is substantially correct, although the four illustrations in Christoph Enzelt's De Re Metallica (1st ed., Frankfort, 1551) predate it. In addition, the lapidary portions of the early herbals, especially the Hortus Santias (1st ed., 1491) were commonly illustrated with cuts, sometimes hand-colored. Gesner's work though is the first to contain such a large number of mineralogical illustrations to facilitate the commentary of the text. He hoped that the illustrations in the book would assist students and then refers to the difficulty which he experienced in giving adequate representations of the minerals and rocks as compared to the animals and plants.

Gesner deviates from almost all previous authors on minerals by presenting his description of minerals not as an alphabetical list, but in a true system of classification. In his numerous other writings on plants and animals, he always attempted to classify natural objects in an organized heirarchy. When his attention was turned to minerals, he faced a difficult problem. There was no well defined and recognized form by which the natural objects from the earth could be classified. Furthermore, the fossilized remains of plants and animals were at the time not differentiated from true minerals. Gesner's solution to the problem was quaint and interesting. He writes in the dedicatory epistle that he was unwilling to adopt an alphabetical arrangement as most earlier writers had done because he considered the method to be trivial. In the present work, he intends to present a method that draws upon the form of the substance being described, which is why the illustrations were included. By this method, the classification will follow in the steps of nature, and will by the same measure reveal her secrets.

First taking the simplest of forms of fossils, or those that resemble lines, angles, circles or allied shapes as seen in the heavens or in the elements, Gesner will pass on to consider forms of ever greater complexity, descending as it were by degrees from heaven to the earth. Using this methodology Gesner's classification consists of 15 distinct classes. Class 1 contain those fossils that suggest points, lines and angles. Included are all transparent and translucent minerals, bodies like pumice whose surface depressions are usually rounded in shape, asbestos, natrolite because of their fiberous nature, quartz, pyrite because of their regular angles. Class 2 consider items whose name is derived from some heavenly body or from one of the Aristotelian elements. Included are moonstone, aquamarine, and opal. Class 3 are those that take their name from something in the sky. This embraces all fossil Echinoderms as well as Neolithic stone axes and other weapons. Class 4 are those named after terrestrial objects, like chrysolite, lead and other metallic ores. Class 5 resemble certain artificial things like belemnites (for darts). Class 6 are artificial items made from metals, stones or gems. Included are mariner's compass and lead pencils (first pictured in this work). Class 7 resemble plants and herbs. Class 8 are those that have the form of shrubs, like coral. Class 9 resemble trees or portions of trees, such as petrified wood and coal plants. Class 10 Corals. Class 11 are other sea plants that have become stone. Class 12 bear resemblance to men or four footed animals. Native silver because of its hair like form, hematite carnelian, blood stone because of it similarity to blood. Class 13 consist of stones derived from the names of birds. Class 14 resemble things that live in the sea, such as glossoptera (fossil shark teeth). Class 15 have the form of insects or serpents. Included are ammonites, ophites and others, as well as insects included in amber. Interestingly, Gesner considers those items that resemble the fossilized remains of animals to be just that, while other fossils of less distinct form are not. The observations outlined in this work were derived from Gesner's own keen mind, while the depictions of the various items were probably derived from specimens contained in his own collection.

Bibliographical references: Adams, Birth and Development, 1938: 176-83, portrait. Adams, Cambridge Books, 1967: G-522. Beekman, Systematische Mineralogie, 1906: 12 & 25. Dana's 7th (Bibliography): 71. Freiesleben, Sächsische Mineralien-Verzeichnisse, 1828: no. 1. Freilich Sale Catalog: no. 209. Gatterer, Mineralogischen Literatur, 1798-9: 2, 6. Hoover Collection: no. 347. LKG: III 22. Murray, Museums, 1904: 1 212-3. NUC: 197, 578 [NG 0178720]. Prescher, H., et al., "Johannes Kentmanns Mineralienkatalog aus dem Jahre 1565", Abhandlungen des Staatlichen Museums für Mineralogie und Geologie, 30, 21-35. Roller & Goodman, Catalogue, 1976: 1, 456. Rudwick, Meaning of Fossils, 1972: 12-4. Sinkankas, Gemology Bibliography, 1993: no. 2366. Torrens, Early Collecting, 1985: 205-6. Ward & Carozzi, Geology Emerging, 1984: no. 907. Wellcome Catalog (Books): 1, no. 2804. Wellisch, H., "Conrad Gessner: a bio-bibliography", Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 7, (1975), pt. 2, 151-247, 4 text figs. Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 23-5.

2. Latin, 1556.
Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri [pseud.] de remediis secretis. Liber physicus, medicus, & partim etiam chymicus, & oeconomicus in vinorum diversi saporis apparatu, medicis & pharmacopolis omnibus praecipuè necessarius. Quem praeter haec quaeantea pr Venetiis, 1556.

567, [41] p. : illus. ; 11 cm. Microfilmed for preservation DNLM. Microfilmed for preservation DNLM. Very scarce.

3. English, 1599.
The practise of the new and old phisicke : wherein is contained the most excellent secrets of phisicke and philosophie, deuided into foure bookes : in the which are the best approued remedies for the diseases as well inward as outward, of al the parts of Printed at London, : by Peter Short, 1599.

[12], 256 leaves (leaf [12] of 1st group blank) : ill. ; 19 cm. (4to) Translation of: Euonymus : Conradi Gesneri ... De secretis liber secundus, the second part of Gesner's Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri. First English ed. (1576) has title: The newe iewell of health. Translation of: Euonymus : Conradi Gesneri ... De Very scarce.