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Early modern European naturalists relied upon third-person accounts of animals, referring to texts rather than observation to inspire their depictions of animals. They utilized ancient and contemporary sources alike. Early modern works contain mythical beasts alongside real animals; the fantastic is intermingled with the realistic.

Dating from circa 1475, the colorful depiction of Saint Anthony Abbot is from a medieval book of hours. A third- and fourth-century hermit who eventually abandoned civilization to live in the Egyptian desert, Anthony was a skilled healer of both humans and animals. For a time, Anthony was a pig herder. He is depicted in this image as preaching to a porcine creature. Saint Anthony is still celebrated in Catholic countries today. His feast day is celebrated with animal blessings.

From faith to fantasy, English clergyman Edward Topsell created the 1100-page work, History of the Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents in 1607-1608. APS possesses a reissue dated 1658. Topsell's work borrows heavily from the work of early Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, and contains quotations from scripture and ancient mythology, physicians and poets. Topsell defends this approach by stating, "Lest it should seem incredible, as the foolish world is apt to believe no more than they see, I have [added] the testimonies of sundry learned men." Classical scholars have just as much importance as contemporary scientists. Mythical beasts appear next to real animals. Yet, even mythical beasts have dietary concerns. Dragons, according to Topsell, seek out lettuce to ease indigestion, but avoid apples like the plague. Apples give them terrible gas! This page includes Topsell's dragons, winged dragons, sepedons, and sea serpents.

A student of philosophy, theology, and medicine, Joannes Jonstanus also borrowed heavily from Biblical and ancient sources, and presented realistic animals next to mythical beasts. A number of his fanciful illustrations from his Historiae Naturalis (1657) appear here. They include the draco, the griffin, the harpy, the leucurcuta, the lion, the merman, and the phoenix. Of particular interest is the martigora. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described the beast as:

Large and rough as a lion, ...its ears and face are like those of a man; its eye is grey, and its body red; it has a tail like a land Scorpion, in which there is a sting; ...it utters a noise resembling the united sound of a pipe and a trumpet; it is not less swift of foot than a stag, and is wild, and devours men.

Turning away from fantasy, naturalists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began to utilize comparative anatomy to better understand animals. In Memoirs for a Natural History of Animals (1688), Englishman Alexander Pitfield depicted animals like the lion alongside its internal organs. Following the illustrations are detailed descriptions of each of the animal's parts, complete with comparisons with other animals. Observation was becoming more important to naturalists, replacing the reliance on classical texts.

Similar to Pitfield's lion is the colored illustration of a cat by Johann Daniel Meyer. The feline is presented in living form, with its skeletal representation posed directly below. Eighteenth-century German engraver Meyer, in Vorstellungen allerley Thiere mit ihren Gerippen (1752), presents over 100 animals in this colorful, yet macabre fashion. Meyer also worked as a miniature painter, and his remarkable skill is apparent in the detail of his anatomical engravings.

The final image, "Homology: Arms and Legs," is a later work, from the nineteenth century. It suggests the relationship between several animals based on similarity in form of body parts. Naturalists have pondered different ways of classifying animals, of discovering a taxonomy to catalog and describe them. Comparing physical composition is one way of achieving this.

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