Monstrosities of Evolution

These bizarre illustrations are from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s 1642 book, History of Monsters (Monstrorum Historia). Although the illustrations are extremely bizarre, they depict Aldrovandi’s vivid imagination and vast education in natural history, science and the diversity of life, including monsters.

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) is considered the founder of modern Natural History. The Ulisse Aldrovandi Museum is housed in the Museo di Palazzo Poggi di Scienza e Arte and is located in his hometown of Bologna, Italy. His Storia Naturale, a 13 volume printed work, was conceived as the most complete description of the three kingdoms of nature – mineral, vegetable and animal – available at that time.

Aldrovandi was an extremely educated man. Born to a noble family, he obtained degrees in medicine and philosophy, with further interests in botany, zoology and geology. He became the first professor of natural sciences at the University of Bologna. Of the hundred of books and essays he wrote, only a handful were published during his lifetime.

Nearing the time of his death, he proudly stated that his home held a collection of 18,000 “different natural things,” and 7,000 dried plants displayed in fifteen volumes. The seventeen volumes with drawings of animals, plants, minerals and monstrosities are an integral part of the museum.

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