Early modern natural science as an agent for change in naturalist painting: Jacopo Ligozzi’s zoological illustrations as a case study

Angelica Groom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The Chapter explores the highly productive ten-year (1577-1587) collaboration between Jacopo Ligozzi (1547-1627), naturalist painter to the Medici court in Florence, and the Bolognese naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), whose zoological and botanical research culminated in the publication of a thirteen-volume work on Natural History. Ligozzi contributed to the project in the form of paintings of animals and plants that were used as visual models in the creation of the woodcut prints that appeared in Aldrovandi’s texts. Recent scholarship has tended to emphasise the centrality of the visual arts in the development of early modern natural history. The argument presented in this study focuses on the creative and collaborative dynamic between art and ‘science’ from the opposite perspective. That is, my argument will use the Ligozzi-Aldrovandi case study to assess the impact that the cataloguing and publishing ventures of sixteenth-century naturalists had on the depiction of fauna within early modern visual culture. The central thrust of my argument is to propose that the collaboration between natural philosophers and painters provided the necessary agency for the development of a new artistic genre: the zoological illustration, which Ligozzi helped to develop and codify. Working under the patronage of Grand Duke Francesco I de’Medici (1541-1587), Ligozzi’s role at the Florentine court was to visually record the rare fauna and flora represented in the Grand-ducal collections. The large body of watercolour and gouache illustrations of animals and plants, which the artist created for the Grand Duke, were intended primarily for the consumption of a courtly audience. However, Francesco I’s friendship with Aldrovandi, and sponsorship of his research, meant that many of the zoological and botanical paintings Ligozzi produced for his employer were subsequently copied by the artist himself, or by other painters working at the Medici court, to be sent to the naturalist in Bologna. Ligozzi thus made a substantial contribution to the vast archive of painting depicting birds, mammals, insects, fish, crustaceans, plants, flowers and other organic forms, which Aldrovandi, over a period of some forty years, had collected for his encyclopaedic work on nature. This rich pictorial database of zoological and botanical specimens provided a vital resource for the naturalist’s research. Beyond this, the paintings in Aldrovandi’s collection also served a variety of other requirements: they were intended to confirm a direct connection with the subject being depicted as it appeared in life; they served as visual templates in the production of the woodcut prints; and they played a key function in the description, identification and classification of species discussed in Aldrovandi’s published texts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKnowing Nature in Early Modern Europe
EditorsD. Beck
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9781848935181, 9780367876012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015

Publication series

NameWarwick Series in the Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Early modern natural science as an agent for change in naturalist painting: Jacopo Ligozzi’s zoological illustrations as a case study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this