March 26, 1516|
|Died||December 13, 1565
|Fields||Botany & Zoology|
|Alma mater||University of Strasbourg and University of Bourges|
|Author abbreviation (botany)||Gesner|
Conrad Gesner (Konrad Gesner, Conrad Geßner, Conrad von Gesner, Conradus Gesnerus, Conrad Gesner; 26 March 1516 – 13 December 1565) was a Swiss naturalist and bibliographer. His five-volume Historiae animalium (1551–1558) is considered the beginning of modern zoology, and the flowering plant genus Gesneria (Gesneriaceae) is named after him. He is denoted by the author abbreviation Gesner when citing a botanical name.
Birth and education 
Born and educated in Zürich, Gessner was the son of a furrier. After the death of his father at the Battle of Kappel (1531), he was very short of money. He had good friends, however, in his old master, Oswald Myconius, and subsequently in Heinrich Bullinger, and he was enabled to continue his studies at the universities of Strassburg and Bourges (1532–1533); in Paris, he found a generous patron in the person of Job Steiger of Berne.
In 1535, religious unrest drove him back to Zürich, where he made an imprudent marriage. His friends again came to his aid, enabled him to study at Basel (1536), and in 1537 obtained for him the professorship of Greek at the newly founded academy of Lausanne (then belonging to Berne). Here he had leisure to devote himself to scientific studies, especially botany.
In 1540-1541 he visited the famous medical university of Montpellier, took his degree of doctor of medicine (1541) at Basel, and then settled down to practise at Zürich, where he obtained the post of lecturer in physics at the Carolinum, the precursor of the University of Zürich.
There, apart from a few journeys to foreign countries, and annual summer botanical journeys in his native land, he passed the remainder of his life. He devoted himself to preparing works on many subjects of different sorts.
His great zoological work, Historiae animalium, appeared in 4 vols. (quadrupeds, birds, fishes) folio, 1551–1558, at Zürich, a fifth (snakes) being issued in 1587 (there is a German translation, entitled Thierbuch, of the first 4 vols., Zürich, 1563): this work is the starting-point of modern zoology. Gessner was the first to describe the brown rat and the guinea pig in Europe.
There was extreme religious tension at the time Historiae animalium came out. Under Pope Paul IV it was felt that the religious convictions of an author contaminated all his writings, so it was added to the Roman Catholic Church's list of prohibited books. Gessner was Protestant.
Not content with such vast works, Gessner was also active as a linguist, putting forth in 1555 his book entitled Mithridates de differentis linguis, an account of about 130 known languages, with the Lord's Prayer in twenty-two languages.
In 1556 appeared his edition of the works of Claudius Aelianus. It includes sketches for many well-known animals, and some fictional ones, including unicorns and mermaids.
To his contemporaries he was best known as a botanist, although his botanical manuscripts were not published (in Nuremberg, 1751–1771, 2 vols. folio) until long after his death, he himself issuing only the Enchiridion historiae plantarum (1541) and the Catalogus plantarum (1542) in four languages. In 1545 he published his remarkable Bibliotheca universalis (ed. by J. Simler, 1574), supposedly a catalogue (in Latin, Greek and Hebrew) of all writers who had ever lived, with the titles of their works, etc. A second part, Pandectarum sive partitionum universalium libri xxi, appeared in 1548; only nineteen books being then concluded. The last, a theological encyclopaedia, was published in 1549, but the last but one, intended to include his medical work, was never finished.
To non-scientific readers, Gessner is best known for his love of mountains (below the snow-line) and for his many excursions among them, undertaken partly as a botanist, but also for the sake of exercise and enjoyment of the beauties of nature. In 1541 he prefixed to his Libellus de lacte et operibus lactariis a letter addressed to his friend J. Vogel of Glarus on the wonders to be found among the mountains, declaring his love for them, and his firm resolve to climb at least one mountain every year, not only to collect flowers, but in order to exercise his body. In 1555 he issued his narrative (Descriptio Montis Fracti sive Montis Pilati) of his excursion to the Gnepfstein (1920 m), the lowest point in the Pilatus chain.
Gessner was featured on the 50 Swiss francs banknotes issued between 1978 and 1994.
- 1541 Enchiridion historiae plantarum
- 1542 Catalogus plantarum (1542)
- 1545 Bibliotheca universalis (ed. J. Simler 1574)
- 1548 Pandectarum sive partitionum universalium libri xxi
- 1551–1558 Historiae animalium
- 1551 Quadrupedes vivipares
- 1554 Quadrupedes ovipares
- 1555 Avium natura
- 1558 Piscium & aquatilium animantium natura
- 1552 Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri
- 1553 Corpus Venetum de Balneis
- 1555 Mithridates de differentis linguis
- Historia Plantarum (ed. 1750 )
See also 
- Brummitt, R. K.; C. E. Powell (1992). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-085-4.
- Freye, H.A., and Thenius, E. (1968) Die Nagetiere. Grzimeks Tierleben. (B. Grzimek, ed.) Volume 11. Kindler, Zurich. pp. 204-211.
- Schmitt, p. 46,
- "Conran Gesner biography". Retrieved 2008-09-17.
- Cannon, Barbara; Nedergaard, Jan (2008-08-21). "Developmental biology: Neither fat nor flesh". Nature 454 (7207): 947–8. Bibcode:2008Natur.454..947C. doi:10.1038/454947a. PMID 18719573. Retrieved 2011-05-24.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Biographies were written by J. Hanhari (Winterthur, 1824) and J. Simler (Zürich, 1566).
- Pyle, C. M. (2000). "Conrad Gessner on the Spelling of his Name". Archives of Natural History 27: 175–186.
- Idem, "Conrad Gessner," in Encyclopedia of the Scientific Revolution from Copernicus to Newton, ed. Wilbur Applebaum, New York, Garland, 2000, 265-266.
- Idem, "Conrad Gessner" in Europe 1450-1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, Ed. Jonathan Dewald, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 2004.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Conrad Gesner|
- Theatre of Insects
- Online version of Insectorvm Sive Minimorum Animalivm Theatrvm from GDZ
- Conrad Gesner's Thierbuch, Vogelbuch, Fischbuch, Schlangenbuch, De Scorpione - Reproductions of books.
- Urs B. Leu: Konrad Gessner in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
- Page through a virtual copy of Gessner's Historiae Animalium
- The Natural History of Horses, with Memoir of Gesner by Charles Hamilton Smith
- Images from Icones Animalium... 1560.
- Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by and/or portraits of Conrad Gessner in .jpg and .tiff format.
- View works by Conrad Gessner online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
- In 2012, Amsterdam University Library has digitised the so-called Gessner albums (press release). Some of Gessner's drawings have been made available on Flickr: fish and other creatures of the sea, mammals.