Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605)

Biographical Sketch

*11.9.1522 in Bologna; † 4.5.1605 in Bologna
Natural scientist; Zoologist; Botanist; Professor of Philosophy

Aldrovandi was one of the founders of modern zoology. Due to the early death of his father Teseo Aldrovandi, a solicitor, he completed his training to become a merchant in Bologna and Brescia. He decided to go on a spontaneous pilgrimage to Santiago da Compostela previous to studying law in Bologna. After he became appointed as a lawyer in 1542, he started studying philosophy, mathematics and medicine in Padua (1548-49). On his return to Bologna, he and other townsfolk of Bologna were arrested on suspicion of heresy on 12th July 1549. On the 1st September he was released on condition to expect a lawsuit in Rome. However, it never came to the lawsuit. Thus, A. spent his time in Rome studying antiquity. There he made friends with the zoologist G. Rondelet and around the same time with the botanist L. Ghini. In 1553 A. received a doctorate in philosophy and medicine. Two years later he became professor of philosophy. His main interested was natural philosophy. With his students he went on many excursions to the Alpi di Sesto, the Monti Lucchesi, to Rimini, Venice, Elba, Livorno and to the Veronese Alps. In 1568 he set up a gallery for natural produce and founded the botanical garden. In 1600 he withdrew from teaching and henceforth devoted himself to his publications.

Biographical Links

Aldrovandi’s natural history collection, one of the most significant collections in Italy, held eleven thousand animals, fruits and minerals in 1595. His Hebarium, a sixteen volume work with around seven thousand dried plants, is the result of decades of collecting in the region of Bologna as well as on numerous excursions in Italy. F. Calzolari gives an account of Aldrovandi’s most famous excursion to Monte Baldo close to Verona in 1564 in: Il viaggio di Monte Baldo della magnifica città di Verona, Venedig 1566.
The principal works of Aldrovandi, a founder of modern zoology, are the eleven volumes of Historia animalium, a large encyclopaedia of nature based on his collection. In his lifetime the volumes on birds (1599-1603) and insects (1602) were published. Also the volume on lower animals (1606) seems to have been compiled by Aldrovandi himself, whereas all further volumes were edited by his successor C. Uterverio and B. Ambrosino. Likewise the works Monstrorum Historia (1642), as well as the Dendrologia (1667) came from Aldrovandis bequest and were edited by O. Montalbano. In 1648 Ambrosino published Musaeum Metallicum, a work devoted to mineralogical, geological and palaeological observations. The works Syntaxis plantarum and Syntaxis plantarum et animalium hold around two thousand synoptic panels and go back to when Aldrovandi was teaching at the University of Bologna.
As Adlrovandi, aware of the fictive characters and for the sake of integrity, included numerous mythical creatures, such as a phoenix, a griffin or a dragon in his work Historia animalium, he stands in the tradition of scholasticism and medieval bestiary. His precise observations of nature and its phenomenons, the search for his own classification system in addition to the one of Aristoteles’ as well as his striving for realistic and faithful reproductions of plants, stones and animals were anticipatory. Many of the countless drawings, watercolours and wood engravings were made by excellent artists, such as L.Bennini, C. Svinto, I. Ligozzi and the C. Coriolan from Nürnberg, who was in charge of blanking. (K.S. translated by A.B.)

Further Reading

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