Sea Monk

May 15th, 2017 by

An image of the “sea monk” or “monkish fish” in an announcement for this week’s Great Lakes Great Libraries conference in Madison caught our eye.

The image was often reproduced in early modern books of natural history, in which readers could experience at a safe remove monsters and sports of nature cohabiting the natural world. Along with the bishop fish, it appeared, for example, in book 4 of Conrad Gesner’s Historia animalium, 2nd edition (1604),

Sea monk and bishop fish. Conrad Gessner [or Gesner], 1516-1565. (1604). Historiæ animalium liber IV. Frankfurt: In Bibliopolio Andreæ Cambieri, 1604. Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Call number: 754577 noncurrent oversize.

which advertised on its title page its debt to Rondelet and Belon. 

Our copy of Gesner’s work on fish is bound with others of his works in a hefty oversize volume,

which includes other denizens of the deep both conventional

and cheerful.

Belon’s work of 1553 (in a horizontal format better suited to fish) and Rondelet’s work of 1554-1555 likewise included illustrations of the “fish with the habit of a monk”:

Pierre Belon, 1517?-1564. De aquatilibus, libro duo. Paris: Apud Carolum Stephanum, 1553. Call number: 1008077 noncurrent.


Guillaume Rondelet, 1507-1566. Libri de piscibus marinis. Lyon: Apud Matthiam Bonhomme, 1554. Call number: 798487 noncurrent oversize.

For more on “sea monks and other page frights,” see a post on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog from last Halloween.

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