Die Vignetten der „Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium“ (1758): Einblicke in das Leben und Werk des August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof und seine herpetologischen Pionierleistungen

Die Vignetten der „Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium“ (1758): Einblicke in das Leben und Werk des August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof und seine herpetologischen Pionierleistungen

Von Manfred Niekisch, Greifswald


Der Nürnberger Naturforscher, Maler und Kupferstecher August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof hat sein Werk „Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nos­tratium. Die Natürliche Historie der Frösche hiesi­gen Landes“ (1758) mit Kupfertafeln ausgestattet, die ob ihrer Genauigkeit und Ästhetik vielfach und zu Recht gepriesen worden sind, und zwar schon zu Lebzeiten Rösels (vgl. Kleemann 1761) und bis heute (z. B. Adler 1989, Bory de Saint-Vincent 1828, Dance1990, Haines 2000, ) Unk 1979, Köhler 2005, Leydig 1878, Nissen 1978, Übst et al. 1984, Schmidtler 2005, Tunner 1996, Wood 1931). Kaum Aufmerksamkeit haben dagegen die in den Text eingedruckten neun Kupferstich-Vignetten erhalten. Sie stehen jeweils über dem Anfang der sieben „Abschnitte“, also der Artkapitel, sowie über der Vorrede Rösels. Eine weitere Vignette markiert den Schluss des Werkes und ist als einzige nicht signiert. Im Unterschied zu den berühmten Tafeln zei­gen die Vignetten Landschaften, Szenen und Perso­nen und enthalten eine Fülle von Details, aus deren näherer Betrachtung sich interessante Aussagen zu Rösels geographischem Arbeitsgebiet, seinen Arbeitsweisen, ja selbst zu Aspekten seines Soziallebens ablesen und ableiten lassen. Es ist bisher keine Veröffentlichung bekannt geworden, die sich auch nur deskriptiv, geschweige denn analytisch mit ihnen befasst hätte. Dies soll nun in der vorliegenden Arbeit geschehen. Rösel selbst gibt (mit zwei klei­nen Ausnahmen, auf die weiter unten eingegangen wird) keine Erläuterungen zu den Vignetten, und rund 250 Jahre nach ihrer Entstehung stößt deren vollständige Deutung auf einige Schwierigkeiten. Es liegt also in der Natur der Sache, dass eine Beweis­führung bis hin zu völlig gesicherten Erkenntnissen nicht immer möglich ist (vgl. Übst 2005) und so hilfsweise auch auf – mit gewissen Unsicherheiten behaftete – Interpretationen zurückzugreifen war. Auch wenn manches hypothetisch bleiben muss, ist das sich formende Bild nicht nur in historischer und naturkundlicher Hinsicht relevant, sondern er­laubt auch amüsante Einblicke in die Welt Rösels und seiner Künstler.


The plates in „Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nos­tratium“ (Rösel 1758) have received much attention and have been praised already during Rösel’s life­ time and until now for their outstanding aesthetic and scientific value. Much less attention has been paid and no study is known on the eight vignettes which are heading the foreword and each species chapter and one more standing at the end of the work. Rösel himself refers only very briefly to two of them in the text of his book. 250 years after their creation it is not always possible to fully understand their contents or go beyond hypotheses, but their analysis and interpretation still reveal interesting information on the (at least) six different artists in­volved in the production of these little masterpieces of art (beside Rösel’s own contributions) and their relationship with Rösel, on his work including the geographic region he worked in, and even on some aspects of his social life. At the beginning Rösel had Johann Justin Preissler and Martin Tyroff working on the vignettes, both famous artists of their time, while later he involved less known (and probably less ex­ pensive) artists. It is known that Rösel had increas­ing financial problems during the production of his book. From the comparison of the vignettes to chapters I, II and V it can be deducted that Preissler depicted Rösel himself, Rösel’s teacher and friend Georg Leonhardt Huth and even Rösel’s wife in the three vignettes designed by him. Huth’s role and contributions were essential for Rösel and his works both on insects and frogs. Amongst many other aspects he taught Rösel to dissect frogs and toads (as can be seen in vignette II) and to un­derstand their anatomy. These vignettes also show some of the tools and techniques Rösel used, such as a crossbow like instrument to catch frogs. This has been in use for evidently a very long time before and after Rösel, and it is shown and described for the first time in this book as weil as the „production“ of frog legs for human consumption. While some of the scenes show amusing details, like Rösels‘ wife desperate (or tired?) about her husbands‘ interest in amphibians, others contain information of important scientific value. Three vignettes show and name the locations where Rösel did field work; these are Oberbürg, Unterbürg, and Gleishammer. The three castles do still exist (also one only as a ruin) and al­ though the today’s situation can be compared to the situation in Rösels time. The drainage of wetlands and their transformation into pasture land or forest has altered the landscape considerably since Rösel’s times and makes it difficult to identify the localities depicted in the other headpieces. In one of them the „Dutzendteich“ in the south east of Nürnberg could be clearly identified. Backing up this pictorial information with data from other sources such as Rösel’s biography written by his son-in-law Kleemann (1761), letters from his daughter (fide Leydig 1878) and registers about the contemporary owners of the castles, it can be stated with a high degree of probability that his study objects and field observations come from the Dutzendteich (,,Phragmites Lake“) area and the valley of the river Pegnitz in the east of Nürnberg. There is no indication whatsoev­er that Rösel got animals from or worked himself outside that area. The landscapes in the vignettes to chapters III and V could not be identified and do not seem to represent specific localities. They seem however to be inspired by – and fit perfectly into – the landscape of that relatively small region which had many lakes and ponds and frequent inundations during Rösel’s times. Rösel could not do any more field work after the stroke he suffered in October 1752. He could resume the work on his books in March 1753, but his left arm remained paralyzed for the rest of his life. His enormous „output“ after the stroke shows once more what an enthusiastic and disciplined researcher and artist he was. The vignette at the very end of the text differs from all the others in several aspects. First of all it is not a copper engraving but a woodcut. Further­ more, it is the only vignette not signed by an au­thor; it shows no links to amphibians or natural his­ tory and looks dark and enigmatic, and could be interpreted as suggesting pain or suffering. Expla­nations could be that it was meant to indicate the poor health of Rösel or to express the deep sadness Rösel feit because of the death of his beloved wife. She died in May 1758 shortly before Rösel finished his frog book. The most likely explanation is much more simple: The printer selected a tailpiece which fitted into the available space and was in style with the letterpress, without any relationship to the con­ tents of the book and without any special meaning, just for adornment and to mark the end of the text. Furthermore it was possible to find out two ad­ dresses where Rösel lived in Nürnberg. Also his tomb is known and the available facts indicate that he is still buried there. Rösel’s work provided the basis for the descrip­tion by Laurent (1768) of „Bufofuscus“ (today called Pelobates fuscus). It becomes clear that the Terra typica „Wien“ given by Mertens und Müller (1926) is not correct and has to be changed into .,Oberbürg near Nürnberg“. Rösel, for formal rea­ sons, cannot be considered to be an author in the Linnean sense, but he is the first author in the his­ tory of herpetology to describe a new species and to give the name and picture of the place where he discovered it. The vignettes contain more pioneering elements: For the first time amphibians are presented in their natural environment. Before that, and even many years after Rösel, animals were usually shown alone, accompanied only by – if any – decorating elements like a flower or a stone (or later, like in La Cepede, 1789 in „landscapes“ rather far from nat­ural). These accessories do not teil anything about the habitats the species Jives in. Rösel himself fol­ lows this tradition in his plates and does not even give information on the habitats in the text. Con­trary to that, the vignettes to the foreword and to chapters III and V show the species in natural surroundings and even interacting (mating, feeding); the amphibians (and bird species) are put into their „ecological context“. So these vignettes historically mark the first step from the study of the isolated animal, depicting natural features and landscapes only for the purpose of adornment, towards the view of biotopes and the biocenosis, that means towards the ecosystem approach, more than hundred years be­ fore ERNST HAECKEL defined „ecology“.

21. Oktober 2022