Fortunio Liceti (1577 – 1657), who lived in Italy during the time of Galileo, is the very definition of a Renaissance Man. He was a philosopher, artist, natural scientist, physician, and astronomer. Liceti scrupulously documented his many esoteric interests, and is known to have created over 70 books on a range of subjects. A devout Aristotelian, Liceti sought to strengthen and develop Aristotle’s theories on nature. Much of Liceti’s work concerns physiology, particularly genetic mutation and fetal development.
Among the most famous of Liceti’s surviving books is De Monstris, first published in 1665 after his death. The treatise catalogues mutations in nature, which Liceti regarded not with disgust, but with respectful curiosity. Fantastical monsters include pygmies, mermaids, and bizarre human/animal hybrids which beggar description. Though De Monstris was originally published without Liceti’s accompanying illustrations, for fear of their grotesquerie, later editions include these striking sketches. Such imagery provides a wonderful insight into the scientific method of the Renaissance, and the wonders of nature which continue to fascinate to this day.
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