16 September 2009

Beasts and Bestiaries: a book about how they used to illustrate animals

A couple of weeks ago, while reading a paper* on snail illustrations in old publications, I noticed a citation to a 2001 book called Beasts and bestiaries. The representation of animals from prehistory to the Renaissance by Francesco Mezzalira. It looked interesting, so I started searching for a copy. It turned out that the book was out of print, but I was able to locate, thru Amazon, an independent bookseller that had a new copy for a very reasonable price.

For some reason, I was expecting this to be a small book. So when it arrived today in a rather big box, I was surprised. The book turned out to be much larger than I had expected.


This is a handsome, lavishly illustrated production. The plates, many in color, are on glossy paper, which makes the pictures look nice, but the taking of photographs of them with a single flash is rendered difficult—there is always some glare.


It'll be a while before I find time to read the text; in the meantime I am enjoying the illustrations.

Of course, no book on this subject would be complete without a few pictures of our favorite animals. So, here is a quite realistic drawing of a slug from one of the books of the Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi from 1602. The caption reads: Limax nudus cinereus maculis albicantibus. I don't know which slug that would be in the present day taxonomy.


*Warren D. Allmon. 2007. The evolution of accuracy in natural history illustration: reversal of printed illustrations of snails and crabs in pre-Linnaean works suggests indifference to morphological detail. Archives of Natural History 34:174-191.


Vasha said...

According to Lewis and Short's large Latin dictionary, "limax" could refer to both snails and slugs. So it makes sense to add the adjective "nudus" (naked) to that word for a slug. "cinereus" means "ash-colored" and "maculis albicantibus" means "with white spots".

Pretty vague description! But back in the 17th century it seemed adequate because they had no idea how many diverse kinds of slugs there are. Most naturalists probably didn't care either -- to many people it didn't seem worthwhile differentiating among small slimy creeping things. But Aldrovandi's beautifully detailed realistic painting shows that he did find it interesting.


Thanks for the translation. From the position of the pneumostome near the back end of the mantle, I can deduce that this was probably one of the Limax species. Slugs normally don't keep their tails up like that, though.

Deniz Bevan said...

Gorgeous! I love books like that!

A propos of nothing, tomorrow is Talk Like A Pirate Day! http://www.talklikeapirate.com/