Ulisse Aldrovandi, an Italian naturalist, was born Sep. 11, 1522. Aldrovandi was one of the most notable citizens of Bologna, not only because he was a professor there, but because he had assembled one of the greatest collections of natural wonders the world had ever seen. His cabinet of curiosities was a must-see for any high-ranking visitor to Bologna, and it soon inspired other such collections all over Europe. Aldrovandi also kept a staff of artists to draw the objects in his collection. Not until late in life did he get around to publishing an encyclopedia of natural history–the first volume, on birds, came out in 1599, when he was 77, and only a few more volumes appeared before his death.
However, Aldrovandi bequeathed his entire collection to the city of Bologna, and the funds to support it, with the proviso that the publishing program go on, and indeed it did, with the 13th and final tome being printed in 1668. We have a complete set of the Natural History in the History of Science Collection, and it is quite impressive, in its matching vellum-bound folios. The volumes are filled with large woodcuts, many of them copies of similar cuts in Conrad Gesner’s History of animals, but many quite original, as are all of the images above. They show, from top to bottom, a toucan, a porcupine, an armadillo, and a kangaroo rat, with Aldrovandi’s own portrait, from the first volume on birds, inserted at the bottom.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City