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Classic Aldrovandi Books Loaned to National Gallery of Art Exhibition

Vlyssis Aldrovandi ... Ornithologiae, hoc est de avibvs historiae, libri XII ... Portrait of Aldrovandi Vlyssis Aldrovandi ... Ornithologiae, hoc est de avibvs historiae, libri XII ... Owl Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) is widely acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of modern natural history, and his books are classics in the field. Two volumes that include illustrations based on the Italian artist Arcimboldo's superb drawings of animals have been borrowed by the National Gallery of Art for its exhibition Arcimboldo 1526-1593: Nature and fantasy.

Aldrovandi was the first professor of natural sciences at the University of Bologna and founded its botanical garden. He built one of the first—and one of the greatest—natural-history collections of the 16th century, parts of which survive to this day at the University of Bologna and other institutions. More than a Wunderkammer, his museum was a scientific, systematic, encyclopedic attempt to catalog the natural world; it contained almost 20,000 specimens of animals, plants, and minerals, including an extensive herbarium in bound volumes.

In addition, he had something like 8,000 drawings made from his and others' collections, commissioned from outstanding artists of the day.

Toward the end of his life Aldrovandi began to publish extensively illustrated books on natural history; only the volumes on birds (Ornithologiae, 3 volumes, 1599-1603) and insects (Animalibus insectis, 1602) were published before he died; but, using the manuscripts that he left, his colleagues and followers published the remaining volumes on invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, fishes, and other subjects through the 17th century.

The Libraries holds nine of Aldrovandi’s eleven books. The two volumes loaned to the National Gallery of Art’s exhibition will be on display until January, but the others are available for consultation in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History.

Leslie K. Overstreet, Curator of Natural-History Rare Books


Top: Aldrovandi, … Ornithologiae … Bononiae [Bologna], 1599-1603. Vol.1, portrait of Aldrovandi

Bottom: Aldrovandi,  … Ornithologiae … Bononiae [Bologna], 1599-1603. Vol.1, Ulula (owl)

More images can viewed on the Libraries' Galaxy of Images.

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