Topsell places the Getulian dog in England, although its name “Getulian” would imply an origin in Northern Africa, which would also fit with its prevalence in Egypt in Gesner’s time. So, what could this creature be? Nowadays some people think it must be the poodle, on account of the long legs, shaggy hair, and sharp nose. Some think it’s really an ape such as a baboon, on account of the behavior. Of course I think it would be fun if it were really something magical, but I’d enjoy finding out a real explanation, too.
As for this illustration, which I find so delightful, it’s never easy to learn much about the artists responsible for renaissance woodcuts. Gesner named Lucas Schan of Strasbourg as one of his main illustrators, but I have no idea whether this particular image was drawn by Schan, by some other artist, or possibly even by Gesner himself. And whoever drew it, it was presumably carved by someone else entirely. The illustration I’ve shown here comes from Topsell, but was clearly copied as exactly as possible from Gesner. The only difference is that it’s reversed, presumably because it was copied exactly from Gesner’s printed image onto Topsell’s block, which then flipped when that second block was printed. But whatever anonymous artist or artists deserve credit for this one, I think it’s great, with confident curves and curls. Unlike many contemporary illustrations of beasts, it doesn’t look distorted, stiff, or unnatural. It looks odd enough to be interesting, but natural enough to be believable.
[Picture: The Mimick, or Getulian-dog, woodcut from The history of four-footed beasts and serpents by Edward Topsell, 1658 (Image from University of Houston Libraries).]