Conrad Gessner (1516–1565)

Universal Scholar and Natural Scientist of the Renaissance


The Zurich polymath Conrad Gessner (1516–1565) is known as the founder of zoology and plant geography, the father of bibliography, editor of ancient texts, and author of one of the most important paleontological works of the sixteenth century. While preparing his extensive work on plants, he died unexpectedly and early from the plague. Gessner's interest in the natural sciences was rooted, on the one hand, in the new conception of nature that emerged with the Renaissance, and, on the other hand, in the creation theology of the Reformation, which considered nature as a second book of God's revelation next to the Bible. This richly illustrated and erudite biography is the first biography of Gessner to appear in English.

This biography is a translation of Conrad Gessner (1516-1565): Universalgelehrter und Naturforscher der Renaissance (Basel: NZZ Libro, 2016).

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Urs B. Leu, Dr. phil. in History (1990, University of Zürich) is Director of the Rare Book Department at the Zentralbibliothek Zürich. He has published extensively on Conrad Gessner and the Swiss reformation as well as the history of science.
Praise for the German edition:

“Beyond the claim of being an “intellectual biography,” the book offers rich and detailed insights into sixteenth-century Zurich, a city Gessner only left for a few years when he was a student. One appreciates not only Leu’s local knowledge and embedding in today’s intellectual discourse of the city, but also his extensive familiarity with Zurich’s treasure of old books published in the time of Gessner.”
Tilmann Walter, University of Würzburg. In: Gesnerus, Vol. 74, No. 1 (2017), pp. 141–143.

“With his comprehensive description of the diverse interests and activities of the Zurich scholar Conrad Gessner, Urs B. Leu has succeeded in writing an appealing biography. […] The book is a very valuable contribution to the (re)discovery of an important Swiss scholar of the European Renaissance, and invites readers to discover the figure of Conrad Gessner.”
Simona Boscani Leoni, University of Bern. In: H-Soz-Kult, 13.04.2017.

List of Illustrations

1 Early Years
 1.1 Gessner’s Teachers
 1.2 Humanism in Zürich

2 The Traveling Student
 2.1 Paris and Bourges

3 Marriage and Medical Studies
 3.1 Basel
 3.2 First Publications

4 Three Happy Years in Lausanne
 4.1 Works from Western Switzerland

5 Montpellier

6 Lyon

7 Doctorate in Basel

8 Return to Zürich
 8.1 Travels in the Alps
 8.2 Publications on Classics
 8.3 Martial Edition
 8.4 Author Royalties

9 Professor of Natural Sciences
 9.1 Teaching Material
 9.2 Study Guide
 9.3 Theatrum Galeni
 9.4 Loci-Collections
 9.5 Lectures
 9.6 Students

10 The World of Books
 10.1 Diego Hurtado de Mendoza
 10.2 The Hunt for Greek Manuscripts
 10.3 Venice: Book Publishing Metropolis
 10.4 Bibliotheca universalis
 10.5 Pandectarum libri and Partitiones theologicae
 10.6 Relationships with Printers

11 Augsburg Intermezzo

12 The Animal Books – A Renaissance Noah’s Arc
 12.1 Natural Theology
 12.2 Autopsy
 12.3 Zoo
 12.4 Museum
 12.5 Organization
 12.6 Mythical Creatures
 12.7 Network and Images
 12.8 Price and Distribution
 12.9 The History of Its Impact

13 Philological Works
 13.1 Mithridates
 13.2 Classic Editions

14 Second Stay in Augsburg and the Imperial Grant of Arms

15 Botany
 15.1 Technical Literature
 15.2 Nomenclature and Classification
 15.3 Friendly Favors
 15.4 Botanical Gardens
 15.5 Excursions
 15.6 History of Plants
 15.7 The Mattioli Affair

16 Medicine and Pharmacology
 16.1 A Compendium of Remedies
 16.2 Paracelsus
 16.3 Self-experiments and Animal Experiments
 16.4 Balneology
 16.5 Medical Text Editions
 16.6 Medical Practice
 16.7 Municipal Physician

17 Freaks, Monsters and Northern Lights

18 Earth Sciences

19 Testament and Estate

Appendix 1: Gessner’s Testament
Appendix 2: Additions to Gessner’s Private Library
Appendix 3: Gessner’s Correspondence
Index of Names
All interested in the history of science, humanism, and the Reformation. Keywords: history of science, history of the early modern period, Reformation, Renaissance, Conrad Gessner, classics, bibliography, history of the book, history of zoology, history of botany, history of medicine.
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