Monstrorum Historia

Ulisse Aldrovandi, published posthumously in 1642

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522 – 1605)

Born in Bologna, Italy and educated in the city’s famous university and at and Padua, Ulisse Aldrovandi began his career teaching logic and philosophy. In 1549 his life and his life’s work changed dramatically when, after being accused of heresy by the Catholic church for supporting Anabaptist ideas, he was transferred to Rome for a year while things were sorted out. While in Rome under house arrest he fell in love with the natural world, and began the work that would define the rest of his life.

Back in Bologna he began the process of amassing an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities, intended to be a representation of the diversity of the natural world. His collection grew to contain more than 7,000 specimens and another several thousand herbarium and plant specimens. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Bologna Botanical Gardens, which still exist today.

Based on his amassed treasures, Aldrovandi began the process of documenting the collection. During his lifetime he produced some 400 volumes of written work, however only a very small number of those were printed during his lifetime.

When Aldrovandi died in 1605, he left his enormous collection to the Senate of Bologna, and many of his unpublished works were published for the first time many years after his death.

His most famous works are his Monstrorum Historia, documenting both the “monstrous” in human and animal deformity as well as great mythical monsters, and his book specifically on dragons and serpents, Serpentum, et draconum historiae, both published decades after his death. They were, together, a masterpiece of the weird, featuring glorious woodcut illustrations of oddities and creatures familiar and distinctly bizarre. Where possible, he insisted that drawings be done from life or from available specimens, but as is obvious from the variety of strange contents, did not allow that to prevent him from including the great monsters of myth, legend, and traveler’s tales.

Although much of his cabinet of curiosities was lost in the centuries since his death, a small collection remains and can be seen at the Museum Aldrovandi in Palazzo Poggi in Bologna.




Museum Aldrovandi in Palazzo Poggi — small portion of his original collections
Aldrovandi museum Bologna
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