This outstanding and rare woodcut is from Konrad (Conrad) von Gesners Icones animalium quadrupedum viviparorum et oviparorum, quae in historiae animalium Conradi Gesneri libro I et II. Describuntur, cum nomenclaturis singulorum latinis, graecis, italicis,gallicis, et germanicus plerunque, et aliarum quoque linguarum, certis ordinibus digestae. The work was published in Zurich in 1598. Gesner attributes many illustrations to Lucas Schan and it is believed he used other illustrators including himself.
Icones Animalium was created to record the zoological world in its entirety and was the first encyclopaedic work of its kind. It became “an inventory of renaissance zoology.” The work featured illustrations of both real and mythological creatures. It was published in an age of discovery where the line between fact and fiction was blurred allowing depictions of unicorns, sea monsters, and a person with bird feet to be published in a natural history encyclopedia.
Gesners work surveyed the animal world with clear, defined text. Icones Animalium (Historiae animalium) is considered the beginning of modern zoology and a monumental work that attempted to build a connection between ancient knowledge and new scientific discoveries.
While Gesner included mythical creatures and known animals in his encyclopedia, he also introduced newly discovered species of the East Indies and animals brought back from the New World.