Conrad Gessner

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Conrad Gessner (1516–1565), engraving by Conrad Meyer, 1662

Conrad Gessner (born March 16 or 26, 1516 in Zurich ; † December 13, 1565 there ; or Conrad Gesner , also: Konrad Gessner or Konrad Gesner , Konrad Geßner , Conrad Geßner , Conrad von Gesner , Latinized Conradus Gesnerus , graced Thrasyboulos Gessneros ) was a Swiss doctor , naturalist , classical philologist , humanist, polyhistor and encyclopaedist. Its official botanical author abbreviationis " Gesner ".

Spelling of the name

There are different spellings of his name in use. There is no consensus among experts on the question of which spelling is the right one.

Gessner himself wrote his name in the German-speaking context Cůnrat Geſſner. His relatives and descendants wrote to Gessner . The first name varies more, including Cuorat, Cuonrat, Cuonrath, Cuonradt, Conrath, Conradt, Kuonrat . The in humanism usual latinization of the name returned Conradus Gesnerus , wherein the double Gessner s for plain -s- simplified, as a result -ssn- the Latin is foreign. Probably from the Latinization Gesnerus , the name Gesner with a simple -s- spread in literature , whereby the entry in Johann Jacob Leus General Helvetic, Federal or Swiss Lexicon may have played a role. This spelling was also encouraged by the Gessner biographer Johannes Hanhart , who writes Geßner himself , but erroneously claims that Gessner himself wrote Gesner . Rath defended the spelling Gesner . In more recent specialist publications, e.g. B. by Urs B. Leu , the spelling Conrad Gessner is common.


Monument in the old Botanical Garden Zurich

Conrad Gessner was born in March 1516 in Zurich as one of eight children “uff den palm day” . His father was the furrier Urs Gessner. His family was destitute. At the age of five Conrad came to his uncle Johannes Frick, a Grossmünster chaplain , because his family had no more money to support him. There his lifelong love for botany was awakened in his uncle's garden. He attended the German School, which he left after three years for the Latin School of the Grossmünster in Zurich.

In 1526 Gessner came to his teacher Oswald Myconius , with whom he lived for three years before moving to Johann Jakob Ammann's house in 1529 . At the same time he moved to the reformed Huldrych Zwinglis University , where he received further language lessons and also attended Zwingli's theological events.

In 1531, the first and only theater play spoken in ancient Greek in the 16th century was performed in Zurich and Gessner, by far the youngest member of the group, played two roles, which shows his extraordinary knowledge of Greek. In the same year both Gessner's father and Huldrych Zwingli died in the Second Kappel War , which hit Gessner hard.

In 1532 Gessner moved to Strasbourg to the Hebraist Wolfgang Capito , where he learned Hebrew and taught the much older printer Wendelin Rihel in ancient Greek. There followed several years of constant change of residence (such as Bourges and Paris ) and medical studies. In 1534 Gessner became a teacher in Zurich and married Barbara Singysen; a decision that was very frowned upon by those around him. In 1537 Gessner became professor of Greek in Lausanne . In 1540 he continued his medical training in Montpellier. In 1541 he then obtained his doctorate from the University of Basel . He returned to Zurich and became a professor of natural sciences at the high school and also settled as a doctor in Zurich.

In 1541 Gessner published his Bibliotheca universalis , which also made him famous abroad.

The Historia animalium followed from 1551 to 1558, probably his most important work.

In 1554 Gessner was appointed city ​​doctor of Zurich, succeeding the craft surgeon and theater maker Jakob Ruf ; in 1558 he was appointed canon. During this time he probably also wrote his Historia Plantarum , which he could never finish.

In 1559 Gessner went to see Emperor Ferdinand I in Augsburg. In 1564 he also received a letter of coat of arms from him . Because of his own childlessness, this passed on to the descendants of his uncle Andreas Gessner.

Conrad Gessner died of the plague in 1565 after treating the reformer Heinrich Bullinger that same year .


The best-known work of Gessner, who tried to systematically sift through and open up the rapidly growing knowledge of his epoch, is his four-volume Historia animalium , which was posthumously supplemented by a fifth volume. The work appeared between 1551 and 1558; respectively it was published as Thierbuch in 1565 by the Froschauer printing company . From 1669 to 1670 it was translated and published as a general animal book . Gessner's structure was based on the guidelines of Aristotle ( Historia animalium ) and Albertus Magnus ( De animalibus ). This book lists a number of animals that are now considered to be mythical animals , such as the unicorn , whose existence is also viewed critically by Gessner. The work is structured as follows:

  1. Quadrupedes vivipares . 1551.
  2. Quadrupedes ovipares . 1554.
  3. Avium natura . 1555.
  4. Piscium & aquatilium animantium natura . 1558.

The 5th volume followed in 1587, a volume on the snakes , in the German translation in 1634 another on insects from his estate. The folios are illustrated with woodcuts, including the world-famous Rhinocerus by Albrecht Dürer and the giraffe from Bernhard von Breydenbach's Peregrinatio in terram sanctam and pictures of fish by Hans Asper . Gessner created 65 tables himself. The important botanical work Stirpium historia describes the importance of plant parts, especially the flowers and fruits , for the systematics of plants. In Corpus Venetum de Balneis (1553) he published analyzes of medicinal springs . The work Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri,… (1552) put together the knowledge of chemistry , medicines and medicine.

Gessner's house where he lived and where he died on Frankengasse in Zurich

In 1565 he wrote De Omni Rerum Fossilium Genere with a systematic classification of fossils and minerals into 15 classes. He is also considered to be the first to describe the mineral cerussite . He referred to the iron ore siderite as the "steel kingdom of iron".

In addition, Gessner became known with his Bibliotheca universalis . His goal was to record the printed and unprinted book production in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, so that in the future knowledge of books would protect against their loss and destruction ( book storm ). In the first part, published by Christoph Froschauer in 1545, Gessner bibliographed around 10,000 works with contents on over 1,000 pages; he laid the foundations of bibliography and modern lexicography . In the second part, the books were broken down by sciences: For this purpose, he used a system of 21 subject areas, as his teacher Konrad Pellikan had tested in the book collection of the Grossmünster Abbey Library ( Zurich Central Library ) since 1532. Sections 1–19 appeared in 1548 under the title Pandectae sive Partitionum universalium , beginning with the grammar. The 20th section on medicine did not come out due to lack of funds - the work did not sell as well as expected - and the 21st section on theology under the title Partitiones theologicae , also published by Froschauer in 1549, concluded the work. Gessner needed the technique of working with bibliographic slips of paper, which he was the first to describe.

In the last decade of his life, Conrad Gessner planned an extensive botanical encyclopedia, the Historia Plantarum . The work remained unfinished; it was bought from the estate by Joachim Camerarius the Younger and completed in order to reissue it with Pietro Andrea Mattioli's herbal book . Gessner's Historia Plantarum was first published in 1750.


Swiss 50 franc banknote

Charles Plumier named a genus Gesnera of the Gesneria family (Gesneriaceae) in his honor . Carl von Linné later changed this name to Gesneria .

In Zurich, a memorial and the “Gessner Garden”, a medieval herb garden in the old botanical garden “zur Katz”, commemorate his work. Along with Ulisse Aldrovandi, Conrad Gessner is considered to be one of the founders of modern zoology . In Zurich he founded the first botanical garden and an important collection of natural objects , which was lost shortly after his death.

As a homage to this important Zurich man and patron of the library system, Gessner still sits enthroned as a statue to the left of Johann Jakob Bodmer above the entrance to the Zurich Central Library .

The 50 note of the sixth / seventh CHF banknote series from 1976/1984 was dedicated to Konrad Gessner.

On January 6, 2003, an asteroid was named after Conrad Gesner: (9079) Gesner .

In 1946, images from his Historia animalium were used in the children's book Schlaufuchs from the Berlin-based Felguth publishing house to illustrate many animal stories.

Fonts (selection)

  • Sanitatis tuendae praecepta. Zurich 1560. Digital version of the Saxon State Library - State and University Library Dresden
  • Mithridates. De differentiis linguarum tum veterum tum quae hodie apud diversas nationes in toto orbe terrarum in usu sunt. Zurich 1555
  • De Omni Rerum Fossilium Genere, Gemmis, Lapidibus, Metallis, Et Huiusmodi, Libri Aliquot. Zurich 1566, digital version of the Saxon State Library - State and University Library Dresden
  • Thesaurus Euonymi-Philiatri de remediis secretis libri. I – II, Zurich 1552 and 1569.
  • Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri de remediis secretis, liber physicus, medicus et partim etiam chymicus […]. Zurich 1554.
  • Historia animalium lib. I de quadrupedibus viviparis. Zurich (Christoph Froschauer) 1551.
  • Historia animalium lib. II de quadrupedibus oviparis. Zurich 1554.
    • General animal book, that is: Real and lively illustration of all four-footed […] animals […], translated into German by the famous Mr. Conradum Forerum […]. Frankfurt am Main (Wilhelm Serlin) 1669; New print ("Thierbuch") Schlüter, Hanover (1983 and) 1994, and Lehmann 1995.
    • Animal book […]. Translated by Forrer. Heidelberg 1606.
  • Historia animalium lib. III qui est de avium natura. Zurich (Christoph Froschauer) 1555.
    • A perfect bird book, showing a true and life-ripped illustration of all […] tame and wild birds and feathered cattle […], translated […] by Georgium Horstium […]. Frankfurt am Main (Wilhelm Serlin) 1669; New print ("Vogelbuch") Schlüter, Hannover 1994, and Lehmann 1995.
    • Bird book […]. Translated by Haußlein. Frankfurt am Main 1600.
  • Historia animalium lib. IV qui est de piscium et aquatalium natura. Zurich (Christoph Froschauer) 1558.
    • Perfect Fish Book […], translated […] by Georgium Horstium […]. I-II, Frankfurt am Main (Wilhelm Serlin) 1670; New print ("Fischbuch") Schlüter, Hannover 1994, and Lehmann 1995.
    • Fish book, that is a detailed description […]. Translated by Forrer. Frankfurt am Main 1598.
  • Historia animalium lib. V qui est de Serpentium natura. Zurich (Christoph Froschauer) 1587.
    • Gesnerus De Serpentibus Or snake book […] increased by […] Jacobum Carronum and brought into this order: anitzo but Germanized with special diligence. Frankfurt am Main (Wilhelm Serlin) 1662 and 1671; Reprint Hanover 1994.
    • Snake Book […]. Zurich 1589.
  • as ed .: Ovid , Halieuticon. Zurich 1556.
  • Conradi Gesneri Opera Botanica. Per Duo Saecula Desiderata Vitam Auctoris Et Operis Historiam Cordi Librum Quintum Cum Adnotationibus Gesneri In Totum Opus Ut Et Wolphii Fragmentum Historiae Plantarum Gesnerianae Adiunctis Indicibus Iconum Tam Olim Editarum Quam Nunc Prodeuntium Cum Figuris Ultra CCCC. Minoris Formae Partim Ligno Excisis Partim Aeri Insculptis Complectentia . Seligmann / Fleischmann, Norimbergae 1754 ( digitized edition ).
  • Heinrich Zoller, Martin Steinmann (ed.): Conrad Gesner: Conradi Gesneri Historia plantarum . Complete edition. Urs-Graf-Verlag, Dietikon-Zurich 1987/1991

Newer editions

  • Conrad Gesner: Gesnerus redivivus auctus & emendatus / previously described by Conradum Gesnerum in Latin and later translated by another hand for the benefit of the German world. Brought into a very clear and clean German language, adorned and increased by Georgium Horstium. , Historia animalium (German), 3-volume edition (animal book, fish book, bird book), repr., Special edition. for JF Lehmann's specialist bookstore, Verlag Schlüter, Hanover 1995, ISBN 978-3-87706-429-0 .


  • Ann Blair: The Dedication Strategies of Conrad Gessner . In: Gideon Manning, Cynthia Klestinec (Eds.): Professors, Physicians and Practices in the History of Medicine . Springer, 2017, ISBN 978-3-319-56513-2 ( doi: 10.1007 / 978-3-319-56514-9_8 ).
  • Angela Fischel: Gessner, Conrad (Konrad). In: Sikart
  • Angela Fischel: Nature in Pictures: Drawing and knowledge of nature with Conrad Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi, Mann, Berlin 2009.
  • Hans Fischer : Conrad Gessner (March 26, 1516– December 13, 1565): Life and Work (= New Year's Gazette of the Natural Research Society in Zurich. 1966). Zurich 1965 ( digitized ).
  • Hans Fischer (ed.): Conrad Gessner, 1516–1565: universal scholar, natural scientist, doctor . With contributions by Hans Fischer , Georges Petit, Heinrich Zoller a. a. Orell Füssli, Zurich 1967.
  • Matthias Freudenberg:  Ges (s) ner, Konrad. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 15, Bautz, Herzberg 1999, ISBN 3-88309-077-8 , Sp. 635-650.
  • Eduard K. Fueter:  Gesner, Konrad. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 6, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1964, ISBN 3-428-00187-7 , pp. 342-345 ( digitized version ).
  • Götz Gessner: Conrad Gessner - De omni rerum fossilium genere . 1996.
  • Johannes Hanhart: Conrad Geßner. A contribution to the history of scientific endeavors and the improvement of faith in the 16th century . Steiner, Winterthur 1824 ( online ).
  • Wolfgang Harms : Significance as part of the matter in standard zoological works of the early modern period (Konrad Gesner, Ulisse Aldrovandi). In: Hartmut Boockmann, Bernd Moeller , Karl Stackmann (eds.): Life lessons and world designs in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age. Politics - Education - Natural History - Theology. Report on colloquia of the commission to research the culture of the late Middle Ages 1983 to 1987 (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen: philological-historical class. Volume III, No. 179). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1989, ISBN 3-525-82463-7 , pp. 352-369.
  • Wilfried Kettler: Studies on the early New High German lexicography in Switzerland and Alsace. Structures, types, sources and effects of dictionaries at the beginning of the modern age. Peter Lang, Bern 2008, ISBN 978-3-03911-430-6 , pp. 626-776 (Conrad Gesner's word collections) .
  • Urs B. Leu : Gessner, Konrad. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  • Urs B. Leu: Conrad Gesner as a theologian. A contribution to Zurich's intellectual history of the 16th century (= Zurich contributions to the history of the Reformation 14). Lang, Bern 1990.
  • Urs B. Leu, Raffael Keller, Sandra Weidmann: Conrad Gessner's Private Library (= History of Science and Medicine Library , Volume 5). Brill, Leiden / Boston 2008, ISBN 978-90-04-16723-0 .
  • Urs B. Leu, Mylène Ruoss (ed.): Conrad Gessner, 1516–2016, Facets of a Universe. Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich 2016, ISBN 978-3-03810-152-9 , pp. 53–60.
  • Urs B. Leu: Conrad Gessner (1516–1565), universal scholar and natural scientist of the Renaissance . Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich 2016, ISBN 978-3-03810-153-6 .
  • Jacob Achilles MählyGesner, Konrad . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 9, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1879, pp. 107-120.
  • Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke : Gessner, Konrad. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 484.
  • Reinhard Oberschelp: Old Bird Pictures: From the old holdings of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library . ISBN 3-8271-8834-2 . Colored illustrations, name Latinized to "Conradus Gesnerus": p. 16 Waldrapp (first published 1551–1558); P. 17 Waxwing ibid.
  • Eugène Olivier: Les années Lausannoises (1537-1540) de Conrad Gesner . In: Swiss History Journal . Volume 1, 1951 ( digitized version ).
  • Cynthia M. Pyle: Conrad Gessner on the Spelling of his Name . In: Archives of Natural History . Volume 27, number 2, 2000, pp. 175-186 ( doi: 10.3366 / anh.2000.27.2.175 ).
  • Christa Riedl-Dorn: Science and mythical creatures. A critical attempt on Conrad Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi (= Perspektiven der Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Vol. 6). Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne 1989, ISBN 3-205-05262-5 .
  • Fiammetta Sabba: La "Bibliotheca universalis" by Conrad Gesner. Monumento della cultura Europea (= Il bibliotecario , 25). Bulzoni, Roma 2012, ISBN 978-88-7870-621-7 .
  • Katharina B. Springer, Ragnar Kinzelbach: The bird book by Conrad Gessner (1516-1565). An archive for avifaunistic data . Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2009, ISBN 3-540-85284-0 .

Individual evidence

  1. On the uncertain date of birth see Katharina B. Springer, Ragnar K. Kinzelbach: The bird book by Conrad Gessner (1516–1565). An archive for avifauna data. Springer Spectrum, Berlin / Heidelberg 2009 (reprint 2013), p. 36: «Some sources cite March 16, 1516 as the date of Gessner's birth [sic!] (Fretz 1948, Fischer 1966); in contrast to this, Wellisch (1984) gives the 26th March at. According to Fischer et al. (1967) bases the latter statement on a letter from Gessner dated March 26th, which Gessner describes as being written on his birthday. In his will from the same year, he declares that he was born “in iar 1516 on the day of the palm”. Palm Sunday of that year fell on March 16. Fischer et al. (1967) prefer March 16, since the contradiction to the date of the letter can be most easily explained by a typographical error in the latter »( Google Books ); differently Jacob Achilles Mähly in ADB: Gesner, Konrad (natural scientist) with preference for March 26th.
  2. Urs. B. Leu: Conrad Gessner (1516–1565): Universal scholar and natural scientist of the Renaissance . Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich 2016, ISBN 978-3-03810-153-6 , p. 51.
  3. Cynthia M. Pyle (2000): Conrad Gessner on the spelling of his name . In: Archives of natural history 27 (2): 175-186.
  4. ^ Geſner, Conrad . In: General Helvetic, Federal or Swiss Lexicon . Volume 4, Part 8, 1754, pp. 482-489 ( online).
  5. ^ Johannes Hanhart: Conrad Geßner. A contribution to the history of scientific pursuit and the improvement of faith in the 16th century. Winterthur 1824 ( online ).
  6. ^ Gernot Rath: Konrad Geßner (1516–1565). Special supplement in: Swiss monthly issues . Volume 45, No. 12, 1965, p. 23 ( PDF ).
  7. ^ Fischer, Hans and others (1967): Conrad Gessner 1516–1565. Polymath naturalist doctor . Orell Füssli: Zurich.
  8. ^ Braun, Lucien (1990): Conrad Gessner . Slatkine: Geneva.
  9. Urs B. Leu: Conrad Gessner 1516–1565. Polymath and naturalist of the Renaissance . Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung , 2016, 463 pages.
  10. Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke: Gessner, Konrad. 2005, p. 484.
  11. Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke: Gessner, Konrad. 2005, p. 484.
  12. Note: Salomon Gessner descends from Andreas' son Heinrich , from Heinrich's brother Hans Johannes Gessner .
  13. ^ Taken from the display boards and labels at the "Gessner Garden", Old Botanical Garden Zurich .
  14. Mineral Atlas: Cerussite .
  15. ^ Mineralienatlas: Mineralienportrait / Siderit .
  16. Manfred Peters: Conrad Gessner's influence on the German and Dutch lexicography of the 16th century. In: Niederdeutsche Mitteilungen 28, 1972, pp. 70–96.
  17. ^ Hermann Escher: The Bibliotheca universalis Conrad Gessner (Tiguri 1545), the first reasoning and critical biobibliography within the history of library science , in: Hermann Escher: Selected bibliographic essays , Zurich 1937, pp. 145–162.
  18. ^ Markus Krajewski: Paper management. The birth of the card index from the spirit of the library . Berlin 2002, pp. 16-19.
  19. Sabine Schulze (Ed.): Gardens: Order - Inspiration - Luck , Städel Museum , Frankfurt am Main & Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern 2006, ISBN 978-3-7757-1870-7 , p. 38.
  20. ^ Charles Plumier: Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera . Leiden 1703, p. 27.
  21. ^ Carl von Linné: Critica Botanica . Leiden 1737, p. 92
  22. Carl von Linné: Genera Plantarum . Leiden 1742, p. 288.
  23. ^ Sixth series of banknotes 1976, website of the Swiss National Bank
  24. Paul Gustav Chrzescinski (pseudonym Kreki): Schlaufuchs and other stories: With pictures from an ancient book , woodcuts come from the Historia animalium by Conrad Gesner, Zurich, 1551, Felguth Verlag. Berlin 1946, DNB-Link
  25. ^ Heinrich Grimm: New contributions to the "fish literature" of the XV. to XVII. Century and through their printer and bookkeeper. In: Börsenblatt for the German book trade - Frankfurt edition. No. 89, November 5, 1968 (= Archive for the History of Books. Volume 62), pp. 2871–2887, here: p. 2884.

Web links

Wikisource: Historia Plantarum  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Conrad Gesner  - Collection of images, videos and audio files