Ulisse Aldrovandi

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) was born in Bologna. His first studies were in arithmetic, then law.
Ulisse Aldrovandi

After a period devoted to logic, he went to Padua to study medicine, and thereafter, with various experiences in Bologna, he would pursue his interests in medicine, botany, mineralogy and zoology.

For a long time he taught logic and philosophy in Bologna, whilst continuing to be a keen naturalist, and it was here in 1561 that he inaugurated the first chair of natural science, and in 1568 founded the Botanical Gardens.

As a naturalist his works were prolific: on hydrology, diseases various, ornithology, plants, insects, pharmacopoeia, medicine, cosmology, legendary animals like dragons and unicorns. Many of the results of his field research went to swell the wonderful Museo Aldrovandiano, part of which is still conserved in the University Library, together with his own book collection. A typical example of sixteenth-century encyclopaedic learning, he would jot now an empirical observation, now some legendary story; traditional classification alternated with catalogues of imaginary species and arguments over research methods. He travelled widely and boasted that he had never described anything without touching it and observing its anatomy.

Though not always quite as good as his word, he really did observe enough to be called a precursor of naturalistic studies, a fascinating figure on the cusp between traditional erudition and modern science.