Inspired by Chinese New Year, which this year heralds the year of the tiger, we sought out that ferocious beast within some of the many volumes of natural history which form part of the Library’s Thackeray collection and uncovered some wonderful illustrations, which roared out to be shared through this blog.
We begin with this lovely woodcut illustration from the first volume of Conrad Gessner’s Historia animalium (History of the animals). Gessner (1516-1565) was a Swiss physician and naturalist. He produced several major works of zoology and botany and had a lasting influence upon the scientific world. Historia animalium, published in five volumes between 1551 and 1558, was a hugely popular and influential work. Gessner drew heavily on medieval and classical sources, building upon these with the latest zoological knowledge from his own time. These generously illustrated (for their time) volumes cover mammals, reptiles, fish and birds, detailing their diet, habits and physical attributes.
A note in Gessner’s hand found in one copy of this work indicates that this tiger was modelled on a real life example from Florence. This may have been a beast housed in the menagerie of the Medici ruler of that city.
Early nineteenth-century works provide the rest of our illustrations, starting with a handsome colour engraving from Histoire naturelle des mammifères by Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire and Frédéric Cuvier. The authors were both associated with the French National Museum of Natural History: the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Frédéric Cuvier (1773-1838) was head keeper of the menagerie, and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844) was a professor there.
Fearsome tigers on the attack appear in an engraving (shown below) from John Church’s A Cabinet of Quadrupeds, which was published in 1805.
Our final image, aptly enough, depicts a tiger prowling away towards a deep dark forest. This is taken from a book of prints by English landscape and marine painter, William Daniell (1769-1837). Daniell travelled widely in India in his youth, so it is possible that he saw the beasts with his own eyes.
We hope this “ambush” of tigers has provided a stimulating start to your new year!
Marisol Erdman, Conrad Gesner: Illustrated Inventories with the use of Wonderful Woodcuts [accessed 27/1/22]
Florike Egmond, 16th century ‘zoological goldmine’ discovered – in pictures [accessed 27/1/22]