Monday, April 1, 2013

Imagine That! Whales!

Imagine! That's exactly what Conrad Gesner seems to have done in his depiction of these two whales in his 1560 epic work entitled Nomenclator Aquatilium Animantium. Gesner was a Swiss naturalist with an extremely curious mind. Although he only lived for fifty years (1516-1565), he was exceptionally productive in his studies. For example, he attempted to name every known animal (and some unknown); he wrote extensive treatises on botany; he tried to identify all existing languages; he published a catalog of all the known authors to that time, and much more. If Gesner had not died of the plague in 1565, who knows what else he might have accomplished?
A depiction of whales in Nomenclator aquatilium animantium, published in 1560.
While his book on aquatic animals does contain mythical creatures such as mermaids, he tried to describe as many animals as he could from direct observation, not just from hearsay as was the custom of the time.

In this picture of the two bizarre-looking whales, the strangest part is not the whales themselves, but the man standing at the rail with what looks like a trumpet, obviously blowing it in the direction of the beasts. Is he trying to call them or scare them or communicate with them? If your Latin and German are good enough, you can try to find out when you go to this link at to read the work in its original format. Click on the picture to get a larger version.Mystic Seaport is fortunate enough to have this extremely rare book as part of its research collection in the G.W Blunt White Library.

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