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RONDELET, Guillaume (1507–1566)

Libri de piscibus marinis, in quibus veræ piscium effigies expressæ sunt. [Volume II]: Universæ aquatilum historiæ pars altera, cum veris ipsorum imaginibus.
Lugduni, Matthiam Bonhomme, 1554-1555.

First edition of the most important of the early works on aquatic life. Rondelet was procurator at the Medical Faculty of Montpellier and was in 1556 elected chancellor of the univerisity. He was a close friend of Rabelais, whose character Rondibilis may be based on Rondelet. Although he was active in several branches of biology, Rondelet’s reputation effectively depends on his massive compendium on aquatic life, which covered far more species (over 300) than any earlier work in that field. It laid the foundation for later ichthyological research and was the standard reference work for over a century. In his own day Rondelet was almost as well known as an anatomist as a zoologist: As a popular lecturer Rondelet attracted scholars from all over Europe: Coiter and Bauhin, Clusius and Lobelius (who inherited Rondelet’s botanical manuscripts). Both Gesner and Aldrovandi studied under Rondelet. The first four books (chapters) constitute a general treatise on comparative anatomy and physiology, distinguishing species by their habits, parts and actions, although Rondelet adopted no definite system of classification for these distinctions. The remainder covers the whole of freshwater as well as marine zoology, and is not restricted to fishes. All aquatic animals are included: marine mammals, arthropods and mollusks, riverine amphibians, and even beavers. The work is an encyclopedia of several hundreds of animals, almost all of which are illustrated with beautifully executed woodcuts; including the first printed illustration of the torpedo fish and the earliest known figure of a dissected invertebrate, the sea-urchin. Rondelet also dissected the respiratory organs of some smaller Cetacea and gives apparently the first zoological accounts of the sperm whale and the manatee. Rondelet also discusses some fabulous sea-creatures. In the book are described and depicted the extraordinary creatures labelled ”De pisce monachi habitu” and ”De pisce episcopi habitu”. According to Rondelet the ”monk” sea monster was seen in Norway, and his illustration of it is based on a picture given to him by Marguérite d’Angoulème, Queen of Navarre; the ”bishop” sea monster is said to have been found in the Baltic outside Poland in 1531. Gastronomic notes are sometimes added.

Collation: Pp (16), 583, (25); pp (12), 242, (10). Titles with printer’s woodcut device (Perseus). Woodcut medallion portrait of the author (by Pierre Vase) in both volumes and about 470 woodcuts of fishes and other aquatic animals (attributed to Georges Reverdy). Strapwork and arabesque headpieces, foliated initials. Volume I waterdamaged throughout and first and last leaf mounted.

Binding: Two volumes, later eighteenth century boards, red edges.

Provenance: Title page of vol. I has two early owner’s signatures: "J. J. Hansen" and "Henrici Tesch Canonici Düsseldorpiensis 1720"; vol. II has one: "Philippus Gerhardus E. ... Medicus".

References: Garrison-Morton 282; Nissen ZBI, 3474; Dean, III, 309; Casey Wood 541; DSB, XI, 527-28; Norman 1848. (Later edition and translation only).

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