The Dragons of Aldrovandi

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

It’s St. George’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with dragons?

Title page of Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640.

Title page of Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps the most famous illustrations of dragons in our collection come from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s posthumous Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo (The History of Serpents and Dragons), 1640.

Aldrovandi (1522–1605) was a physician and naturalist from a noble family in Bologna. He received a medical degree from Padua in 1553, and became a full professor at the University of Bologna in 1561.1 Pope Gregory XIII, his cousin, supported his career, appointing him as inspector of drugs and pharmacies and offering monetary aid for his many natural history works, only four of which were published during his lifetime.1,2

Aldrovandi maintained a museum of biological specimens, supervised by Bartolomeo Ambrosini, who shepherded Serpentum et draconum to publication after Aldrovandi’s death.2 The book offers descriptions and engravings of snakes, along with more legendary creatures, some drawn from descriptions given by merchants, others debunking the practice of stitching together animal parts to create “monsters.”3,4 Aldrovandi even claimed to have a dragon in his museum, collected in Bologna in 1572 at the bequest of his cousin, the pope.2

Enjoy the dragons! Click on an image to view the gallery.

References

1. Ulisse Aldrovandi: Italian Naturalist. Encycl Br. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/13659/Ulisse-Aldrovandi. Accessed April 23, 2015.

2. Findlen P. Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press; 1996. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=MdytpHTVf1gC&pgis=1. Accessed April 23, 2015.

3. An “Ethiopian dragon” | Royal Society Picture Library. Available at: https://pictures.royalsociety.org/image-rs-10449. Accessed April 23, 2015.

4. A “dragon” made from fish parts | Royal Society Picture Library. Available at: https://pictures.royalsociety.org/image-rs-10446. Accessed April 23, 2015.

One thought on “The Dragons of Aldrovandi

  1. Pingback: #ColorOurCollections, Day 3 | Books, Health and History

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