Unseen Beasts, Then and Now

square medley600In tomorrow’s New York Times I have an essay about the art of seeing Nature’s unseen–from the bestiaries of the Middle Ages to today’s images of feathered dinosaurs and upright apes. Check it out, and also check out the accompanying slide show about Conrad Gessner, a Renaissance naturalist who assembled the greatest zoological encyclopedia of his day–which included unicorns.

0 thoughts on “Unseen Beasts, Then and Now

  1. I handled some of Gessner’s original diagrams when in Erlangen last year. He did a lot of drawings for an uncompleted Historia Plantarum. I think that with any one of those drawings in hand I could have identified the plant in the field. The man was a glorious observer.

  2. For a second-hand copy of a drawing from written descriptions, that rhinoceros really isn’t bad.

    Indeed. The beaver isn’t too bad either. What’s most striking isn’t so much the inaccuracy of the unfamiliar animals (which is both surprisingly small and forgivable), but the inaccuracy of some of the familiar forms. And of course the credulousness with regard to the fantastical animals. Unicorns are one thing – there was a thriving in trade in narwhal horns claimed to be from unicorns. But monkfish with human heads taken straight from protestant propaganda? Was he not the least bit suspicious?

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