xxxxxThe Swiss naturalist Konrad von Gesner began writing his five-
KONRAD VON GESNER 1516 -
Gesner: illustration by the engraver J.W. Cook, 19th century – private collection.
xxxxxIt was in 1551 that the Swiss naturalist Konrad von Gesner began work on his five-
xxxxxHe was born in Zurich, Switzerland, and was the godson of the Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli. His family were poor, but he showed such remarkable ability at an early age that a number of his teachers sponsored his education. He did not disappoint them. He attended a number of universities throughout Europe, and his studies included theology, Hebrew, medicine and botany. Alongside his work on animals, he also began a similar project on the cataloguing of plant life, but this Opera botanica, as he called it, proved a vast undertaking and was not finished at the time of his death. Nevertheless, his notes and 1,500 wood engravings were made available for later research.
xxxxxAmong his other works were two equally demanding projects: his Biblotheca Universalis of 1545, the first of its kind, contained notes and comments on the books of 1,800 authors who had written their works in Hebrew, Latin or Greek; and a vast encyclopedia which attempted to summarise the recorded knowledge of the world in a series of twenty-
xxxxxHe travelled widely in Europe, and during his lifetime was professor of Greek at Lausanne Academy and, on his return to Zurich, a lecturer in physics and a practising physician. He also found time -