Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/59

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51
AN OLD NATURALIST—CONRAD GESNER.

natural history, filled with simple but spirited pictures of animals, did much to educate the critical powers of the public.

We can not appreciate the educational value of his work without tracing it into other fields, and studying its influence on contemporary art.

Before the day of photography success in drawing living animals depended to a great degree upon the study of earlier attempts, upon the imitation of their successes, and the correction of their failures and shortcomings; and the success of Gesner's draughtsmen, who had few models to copy, was very notable. Their attempts to draw strange and unfamiliar animals are not always happy, but most of the drawings of familiar forms are full of life and spirit, even after they have been interpreted by the wood engraver, who unquestionably failed to render them with perfect accuracy.

Little is known about the makers of the drawings. Gesner says he made some of the originals himself, and also employed several draughtsmen, who lived in his house and gave him all their service. He also says most of the cuts were drawn from life under his supervision, and that he gives the original source of all that are copied or supplied by friends or correspondents.

Like most authors of illustrated works on natural history, he found his own standard of accuracy hard to reach, and he says:

PSM V47 D059 Gesner leopard.jpg

Fig. 3.

"I admit that all the illustrations are not well drawn, but this is not the place for explanations. Most of them are pretty fair, or at least tolerable, especially those of the quadrupeds, which may be considered the best."

The woodcuts made from these drawings are remarkable examples of the skill of the old wood engravers, and they have high claims on the interest of students of the history of their art.

All attention is concentrated on the central figure, and few of the cuts have any accessories whatever; but they are not dia-