Old marine biology literature - Reanaissance


Renewed interest in natural history began to increase by the 16th century, over the next few hundred years there were many studies carried out by what we would today call amateur naturalists although they were usually professional men in other fields. Now Aristotles work was (to easily) put aside as belonging to the old garbage and men started anew.

Within the short space of 15 years in the first quarter of the 1500's, there were born five men who were destined to revolutionize the study of natural history in southwestern Europe, and to lay broad and deep and solid the foundations of ichthyology. These five men were Pierre Belon, Guillaume Rondelet, Hippolyto Salviani, Conrad Gesner and Ulysssis Aldrovani. The first three men worked merely on Mediterranean fishes themselves while the latter two were encyclopaedists. (Gudger, E.W. 1934)


Pierre Belon (1517-1564)
French naturalist who made an extensive scientific journey in countries around the Mediterranean. He wrote several works descriptive of his observations on these journeys in which he described fishes and birds. Back in Paris he was murdered by robbers in Bois de Boulogne.
Histoire naturelle des estranges poisons 1551
Of the 55 leaves in this little book, about 38 are given to the dolphin and its kind, about 5 to the hippopotamus, and two or three to the nautilus. Ten fishes are briefly described with clearly recognizable figures. This seems to be the first scientific book with detailed figures of fishes (at least in the Western world).

De Aquatilibus Libri duo 1553
In French La nature & diversité des poissons avec leurs pourtraits representez au plus pres du naturel 1555
This is an enlargement of the preceding work and like it includes various water-dwellers with descriptions and recognizable figures. Descriptions of about 110 species of fishes, 6 from fresh water, the remainder, including 22 cartilaginous fishes, being from the Mediterranean. He figures 103 of the 110 species. This work was so popular that it appeared in ten other editions and versions, the last in 1620. (Gudger, E.W. 1934)

Recent analyses of the species in this work

BlenniusNautilus (= Argonauta argo)
Canis CarchariasMaia


Guillaume Rondelet (1507-1566)
Rondelet, Professor of Medicine in Montpeiller, travelled extensively through France, to Amsterdam, and through northern Italy, studying fishes on his way.
Libri de Piscibus Marinis 1554-1555
In French Histoire entiere des poissons 1558
Contains about 200 marine fishes and many other marine animals with an illustration added to almost every description. The first part starts with 4 general chapters, the following 11 are on marine fish, the 16-th chapter is on whales, turtles and seals, the 17-th on molluscs and the 18-th on crustaceans. The second part contains two chapters on molluscs, one on zoophytes, three on fresh water fish and one on amphibians.
Dorée ou Sait PierreLieure de mer


Hippolyto Salviani (1514-1572)
Salviani was a professor of medicine at Rome. It is thought that the fish, octopus and squids that he studied were primarily obtained in the Roman fish markets.
Aquatilium animalium Historiae liber primus, cum Eorundem Formis, Aere Excusis. I554 to 1558
"The drawings by Salviani, not so numerous are generally considered to be superior to those found in the works of Belon, Gesner and Rondelet. They number ninety-nine, almost all are of fishes of Italy with some from Illyria and the Archipelago, not counting a few molluscs." (Cuvier/Pietsch).
SquatinaLieure de mer


Conrad Gessner (1516-1565)
Swiss physician and naturalist, best known for his systematic compilations of information on animals and plants.
Liber IIII qui est de Piscium & Aquatilium animantium natura 1558
Historiae animalium, appeared in 4 vols. quadrupeds, birds, fish and snakes 1551-1558, a fifth (scorpions) being issued in 1587. There is a German translation, entitled Thierbuch. By some authors this work is considered to be the starting-point of modern zoology.
This great folio comprises 1297 pages and is illustrated by over 900 woodcuts. Gessner has incorporated the work of Belon and Rondelet and has labelled each form with the name of its original describer. Data is also quoted from all other known authors who have described water animals. (Gudger, E.W. 1934)
KrospelfischConcha inbricata


Adriaen Coenen (1514-1587)
In Dutch: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adriaen_Coenen

Coenen was a clerk to the fish auction, official beachcomber, and an amateur naturalist. His entire life he studied whales and fish found ashore or caught by fishermen. Through his connections with high placed persons he also got the opportunity to study many books on (marine) species.

No known picture 

Het Visboeck 1577-1581
A very lively, never edited, one copy book. With more then 800 pages in watercolour with a rich variety of illustrations. Although he knew many species himself most drawings and texts are copied from others like Belon, Rondelet, Gessner and older works.
Florike Egmond - Het Visboek. De wereld volgens Adriaen Coenen 1514 - 1587, 2005.
Het Walvisboeck 1584
Comparable to the Visboeck, with emphasis on whales in the first part. Some pictures and texts appear in both books.
Florike Egmond en Peter Mason - The Whale book, 2003.
Haringkoningboeck 1585 - 1586
Unfinished last work of Coenen, with much material from his other books. Hopefully this book survived the devastation of the Municipal Archives of Cologne the 3-th of march 2009.
More on Coenen's books and on other Dutch ichthyologists in: Richer, C. Hollandse visboeken De onweerstaanbare kracht van de afbeelding. In Hell, M (2006). Hollandse vis: Hollandse vis themanummer Holland. Historisch tijdschrift (38) 2006 p. 161-176.



Ferrante Imperato (1550 - 1625)
Apothecary of Naples who had a vast cabinet of curiosities. He also ranged southern Italy making geological observations and was among the first correctly to identify the processes through which fossils were formed.
Dell' Historia Naturale 1599
Ferrantes collection embraced a herbarium, shells, birds, sea creatures, in addition to the fossils, clays, minerals and metallic ores, marble and gem species. The catalogue is divided in 28 books with substantial sections on mining (5 books) and alchemy (9 books), the remainder being devoted to animals and vegetable specimens.
Imperatos Cabinet Spongia de forma arborea Alcyonio duro


Ulyssis Aldrovandi (1522 or 1527 - 1605 or 1607)
Doctor of medicine and philosopher in Bologna. He became interested in nature during exile in Rome. Back in his hometown he became professor of Natural History.
Opera 1599 to 1668
A great encyclopaedia on Natural History of wich only three volumes on ornithology and one on entomology were issued during his life. Total content His two books on marine species mentioned below are based on the species of Rondelet, to which he adds more species.

De reliquis animalibus exanguibus libri quatuor, post mortem eius editi: nempe de mollibus, crustaceis, testaceis, et zoophytis 1606

De Piscibus Libri V et de Cetis Lib. Unus 1613
The last volume was brought out after Aladrovandi's death by the Dutchman Joannus Cornelius Uterverius and the Italian Hieronymus Tamburinus. The part dealing with fishes comprises 668 folio pages illustrated by hundreds of woodcuts. A certain number of figures and descriptions are of new Mediterranean fishes, but the greater part of the book is a compilation of fishes of Western Europe.

Julis Canis carcharias Simia marina