British fish by Donovan and ZSL’s oldest books about fish

by Ann Sylph on

As ZSL is holding a Science and Conservation Event on the State of the Thames, we are taking the opportunity to feature some of our wonderful books about fish and other aquatic animals.

Wood cut of a squid from 1555
Wood cut of a squid in La nature & diversité des poissons, par Pierre Belon, 1555

Two of the oldest books in ZSL are about fish and aquatic animals, they are both by Pierre Belon,  L'histoire naturelle des estranges poissons marins, avec la vraie peincture & description du daulphin, & de plusieurs autres de son espèce, published in 1551 and La nature & diversité des poissons, published in 1555. These books are a remarkable achievement, published in French at a time when most books were in Latin and  containing woodcuts depicting a variety of aquatic animals. These were based on specimens collected by Belon from markets throughout Europe. He also travelled in the Near East collecting specimens and information. Sadly, at the age of 47 Pierre Belon was murdered by robbers in April 1564 while gathering herbs in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris.

Almost a century later, Aldrovandi’s volume on fishes was published in 1638, De piscibus libri v et de cetis lib. unus, Joannes Cornelius Uterverius collegit, Marc. Antonius Bernia in lucem restituit Bononiae. During the Renaissance Ulisse Adrovandi  (1522-1605) published a whole series of books in Latin in which he aimed to accurately identify and describe the largest possible number of animals, minerals and plants. As far as possible his research was based on inspection of specimens resulting in him establishing his own extensive museum of specimens and images. The specimens were used as the basis of the woodcuts illustrating his published works as he realised the value of the illustrations accompanying the text. During his lifetime he managed to publish only three volumes of his Natural History, the remaining 9 volumes, including this particular volume were brought out be the Senate of Bologna between 1605 and 1667 but with changes and additions.  He bequeathed his collections to the city of Bologna.

Wood cut illustration of a parrotfish from 1638
Parrotfish wood cut in Aldrovandi, 1638

The natural history of British fishes, including scientific and general descriptions of the most interesting species ... by Edward. Donovan, were published 1802-08 in five volumes. Edward Donovan (1768 – 1837) was a prolific author, illustrator, etcher and colourer of his several multi-volume illustrated books about British animals, including volumes on fish, molluscs, birds, insects. These are just a few examples of the illustrations in his books of British fishes:

Colourful print in yellow and green of a three spined stickleback
Three spined stickleback, in Donovan, Natural History of British Fishes, 1802Vol. 1 Plate XI

Illustration of two bull head fish
River bull head illustration, Plate LXXX in Volume IV of Donovan's Natural history of British fishes, 1806

Illustration of a smelt (fish)
Smelt, Plate XLVIII in Volume II of Donovan Natural history of British Fishes, 1803

If you are attending State of the Thames on 11 July, do call into ZSL Library beforehand to see the books featured in this blog.

Explore our collections further using our online catalogue.  

Books mentioned in this blog:

L'histoire naturelle des estranges poissons marins, avec la vraie peincture & description du daulphin, & de plusieurs autres de son espèce, observée par Pierre Belon du Mans, Paris :  Regnaud Chaudière, 1551

The natural history of British fishes, including scientific and general descriptions of the most interesting species ... by E. Donovan, London :  Rivington, 1802-08 in five volumes

La nature & diversité des poissons, par Pierre Belon du Mans, Paris :  Estienne, 1555

Ulyssis Aldrovandi De piscibus libri v et de cetis lib. unus, Joannes Cornelius Uterverius collegit, Marc. Antonius Bernia in lucem restituit Bononiae :  apud Nicolaum Thebaldinum, 1638

 

Update : a paper has recently been published about the life of Edward Donovan

The careering naturalists : creating career paths in natural history, 1790-1830 by Susannah Gibson, Archives of Natural History 2017, Vol. 42 Part 2, pp. 195-214 (https://doi.org/10.3366/anh.2017.0444)

 

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