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STORIA NATURALE DELLE SCIMMIE 1600-1800

In: Nuncius
Author:
GIULIO BARSANTI Universit di Firenze

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Abstract

title SUMMARY /title The story narrated in this article opens with the first encounter with the gorilla (Battel, 1613), an animal which will only be encountered again and correctly described between 1847 and 1852. Seventeenth-century naturalistic literature concentrated on the chimpanzee (Tulp's satyre , 1641, in particular) and on the orang-utan, both considered as belonging to the same species. The connotations of that species favoured the classification of man within the same order of the monkeys (Linnaeus, 1535), and provoked an astonishing exchange of position within the classification itself: the orang-utan is classified as a second human species, and a population in Indonesia is considered the first species within apes (Linneaus, 1758). Eighteenth-century taxonomical research became increasingly more rigorous (starting with Buffon, 1766). Towards the end of the century, the result is achieved of distinguishing between the chimpanzee and the orang-utan (Blumenbach, 1779-1780). The Asiatic ape is however divided in two well-defined species, the small orang-utan described by Vosmaer and Camper (1778-1779), and the great one described by von Wurmb (1780), whereas the one really existing is placed among the baboons (Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1795). Thus, the chimpanzee conquered the top of the scala naturae, and was eventually identified with man's ancestor (Lamarck, 1802). This article is based on writings and drawings by naturalists and medical writers, as well as on texts and images by travellers, philosophers, artists, and aims at reconstructing the complex network of interactions between observations, expectations, interpretations, ideologies, nomenclature, and classification.

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