Monday, May 16, 2011

Bloch Fish

Hand-coloured engravings from 'Oekonomische Naturgeschichte der Fische Deutschlands' 1781-3 by ME Bloch. Series engravers: J.F. Hennig, L. Schmidt, A.F. Schmidt, G. Bodenehr, et al; after J.F. Hennig, Kruger junior, Plumier et al.

Zeus faber

Cottus scorpius

Xiphias gladius

Anarhichas lupus

Lophius piscatorius

Cyprinus tinca auratus

Siluris glanis

Cobitis taenia

Cyprinus auratus

Mullus surmuletus

Pleuronectes argus

Cyprinus spp.

Esox belone

fish anatomy

Raia oxyrinchus

Salmo thymallus

Marcus Elieser Bloch (1723-1799) was a German physician and ichthyologist, but academic prowess was anything but an inevitability in his life. He pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, as the saying goes, after an impoverished childhood left him illiterate into adulthood.

By some stroke of luck - or perhaps through artful persuasion - Bloch found a position as a teacher in a surgeon's home on the back of his scant knowledge of rabbinical texts. He made the most of the situation however, mastering German and Latin, and he began to study anatomy with the financial assistance of distant relatives. Eventually, Bloch completed a medical degree in Berlin where he subsequently worked as a physician.

Over a couple of decades, Bloch's interest in natural history increased and, in keeping with the custom of the times, he collected specimens and corresponded and shared specimens with international enthusiasts. Obviously fish was his main passion and he sent his son all over Europe collecting as many species as could be found. (The renowned collection still exists, housed at the Museum of Natural History at Humboldt University in Berlin)

Bloch was well into his fifties when his ichthyological hobby became his main academic focus. He concentrated on local fish in the beginning, publishing a couple of minor books on the subject. In about 1781-3 he began to release what would ultimately become the most important (and beautiful) study of fish published in the 18th century. It was one of the first wide-ranging ichthyology works that both provided detailed species descriptions and adhered to Linnaean principles. Although inaccuracies surfaced (particularly with non-German fish) and observations were eventually superseded, the series was generally serviceable and regarded as the standard for a century or more.

Bloch's 12-volume magnum opus -- 'Allgemeine Naturgeschichte der Fische' -- began with the 3-volume series known as 'Oeconomische Naturgeschichte der Fische Deutschlands' (the source for the images above; which specifically concentrated on German fish species). The overall series was released between 1781 and 1795 and was enormously popular. Investors helped defray the publication costs of the second half of the series by sponsoring individual illustration plates which bear their names.

The 432 hand-coloured engravings are fair attempts at reproducing the bright natural colouring of the fish and some of the illustrations were heightened with gold, silver or bronze filings to imitate the metallic sheen of scales. Bloch published a couple of other multi-volume series on fish (at least one posthumously), thereby cementing his place as one of the most important historical figures in ichthylogical science.


MrCachet said...

Wonderful images!

Blobfish said...

Simply beautiful!

kg said...

Exciting as ever but you missed the new home of the Strasbourg project

peacay said...

Thank you!

Oh yeah, thanks for that kg. There's not tooo much difference in content from my point of view. I like the old site more on balance.

By the way, I removed all the library stamps from these images. At least they were kind enough - this time - to not stamp the actual illustrations.

marina said...


Jordi said...

Great post! Seems like the "silure" is smiling.

Post a Comment

Comments are all moderated so don't waste your time spamming: they will never show up.

If you include ANY links that aren't pertinent to the blog post or discussion they will be deleted and a rash will break out in your underwear.

Also: please play the ball and not the person.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Creative Commons License