Knorr, Georg Wolfgang

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Knorr, Georg Wolfgang

(b. Nuremberg, Germany, 30 December 1705; d. Nuremberg, 17 Sesptember 1761)

engraving, paleontology.

Knorr was one of the protogeologists of the eighteenth century who is intermediate between the collectors of cabinets of natural history and those who first made use of fossils for the identification and mapping of stratigraphic succession. This was the generation that finally established the organic origin of fossils and accumulated sufficient descriptive material to classify their finds within the biological kingdom, thus providing the paleontologic basis for the law of faunal succession.

Apprenticed to his father’s craft of turner, Knorr at the age of eighteen became an engraver of copperplates for Leonhard Blanc, working with Martin Tyroff on the illustrations for Jacob Scheuchzer’s Physica sacra (1731). This work and his acquaintance with J. A. Beurer, a mineralogist-correspondent of the Royal Society, sharpened Knorr’s interest in natural history. He was greatly influenced by Durer’s work, some of which he later reproduced, publishing “Albert Dürer, Opera Omnia” as an appendix to his General History of Artists or The Lives, Works, and Accomplishments of Famous Artists (1759).

Knorr’s earliest independent works were views of Nuremberg and its envirous after sketches by J. C. Dietzsch (1737), Historische Künstler (1738). His first scientific work was the preparation of 301 colored copperplate engravings for Thesaurus rei herbariae hortensisque universalis (1750), with Latin and German text by P. F. Gmelin and G. R. Boehmer. The remain-der of Knorr’s life was devoted to the preparation and publication of these costly folio volumes of mixed text and engravings.

Knorr’s geological concerns culminated in 1755 with the publication of his Sammlung … (“Collection of Natuaral Wonders and Antiquities of the Earth’s Crust”), comprising about 125 handsome plates in folio with a descriptive text. The copperplates are in several colors of ink (more than one impression), as well as being hand-washed with watercolor and possibly aquatinted. They depict lusus naturae (dendrites, Florentine paesina, moss agate), a Land- karten-Stein (a variety of dendrite), leaves, crusta- ceans, ammonites, crinoids, fish, medusae, corals, echinoderms, brachiopods (terebratulids), mollusks of various species, ferns, bark, seeds—in short, the contents (excluding mineral and strictly rock specimens) typical of the fossil cabinets of the eighteenth century. Credit for the scientific content, which, Zitel wrote, places Knorr’s Sammlung far ahead of all other eighteenth-century paleontological works, is usually given to J.E.I Walch, who undertook to continue and complete the work for Knorr’s heirs, expanding it ultimately to four volumes.

Nevertheless, the volume published by Knorr alone, although modestly entitled “…nach der Mëynung der berühmsten Männer …” makes it clear that he was thoroughly familiar with the literature of the period and that he was an experienced enough observer to exercise good judgment in weighing the views of others. Knorr classified as diluvialists John Woodward, John Ray, John Morton, Tenzel, Buttner, Johann Bayer, Scheuchzer, Liebknecht, G. A. Volkmann, Christlob Mylius, Nicolaus Steno, Linnaeus, Wohlfarth, Johann Sulzer, Lesser, and Leibniz. He subscribed to the primitive diluvialism which made no distinction between fossils in the rock and the drift; “… a man cannot contradict his eyes” (sammlung, 1755, p.2).

Knorr also briefly referred in his introduction to the views of Voszius, Stillingfleet, Clericus, Plot, Lang, Camerarius, Conring, and Moro, There are additional references to Bernard de Jussieu, who classified the plant fossils depicted by Knorr, as well as to Peter Collinson, F. Bayer’s “Sublim. Oryctograph.” (1730), Pontopiddan, and Wallerius. An essay by Mylius in the form of a letter to A. V. Haller on the zoophytes of Greenland is included. An engraved title page and a double folio frontispiece in water- colors, showing the quarry of Solnhofen (Bavaria), completed the first volume of the work (the three later volumes were published by Walch).

The extraordinary quality of the plates, representing the eighteenth-century continuation of the tradition of Dürer, led to expansion of the work by Walch, as well as to French and Dutch editions. It is scarely an exaggeration to say that the beauty of some of Knorr’s illustratiohns exceeds that of their models and that in all cases the artist’s eye has transformed neutral, natural objects into permanent, formal aspects of humanism.

The detail and accuracy of Knorr’s engravings not only made possible zoological classification but firmly established the distinction between fossils of organic origin and sports of nature.


I. Original Works, The value of Knorr’s copperplates ensured successive impressions, which have yet to be classified.

See Historische Künstler —Belustigung, oder Gespräche in dem Reiche derer Todten, Zwischen … (Nuremberg, 1738); Monumentorum et aliarum quae ad sepulcra veterum pertinent rerum, imagines (Nuremberg, 1753); Deliciae naturae selectae, oder auserlesenes Natüralien-Cabinet, welches aus den drey Reichen der Natur zeiget was von curiösen Liebhabern aufbehalten and gesammlet zu werden verdienet … herausgegeben von Georg Wolfgang knorr (Nuremberg, 1754), with color plates; French trans., 6 pts. in 4 vols. (Nuremberg, 1757-1773), with plates and color frontispiece; ibid., 3 vols, (1760-1775); 2nd ed. (1766-1777), with 88 plates; 3rd ed., 2 vols. (1769- 1776); Sammlung von Merckwürdigkeiten der Natur und Alterthiümern des Erdbodens, welch petrificirte Corper enthält … beschrieben von Georg Wolffgang Knorr (Nuremberg, 1755), with 2nd engraved title page in Latin and 126 color plates. Les délices des yeux et de l‘esprit, ä la représentation d’une collection universelle des coquilles et des autres corps qui sont á trouver dans la mer, produite par Georg Guelphe Knorr, 6 pts., in 4 vols. (Nutemberg, 1757-1773), with 2 plates and color frontispiece; 2nd ed., 6 pts, in 3 vols. (1760-1773); Allgemeine Künstler-Historie, oder berühmter künstler Leben, Werke und Verrichtungen, mit vielen Nachrichten von raren, alten und neuen Kupferstichen beshriebenvon Georg Wolfgang Knorr (Nuremberg, 1759), with portrait, engravings ; and Regnum florae, das Reich der Blumen mit allen seinen Schönheiten nach der Natur und ihren Farben vorgestellt (Nuremberg, n .d .), with 101 color plates .

See also Nürnbergischer Prospectuen, … (ca. 1745), written with J. A. Delsenback and others; Thesaurus rei herbariae hortensisque universalis … Allgemeines Blumen-, Kräuter-, Frucht- and Garten-Buch (Nuremberg, 1750), with color plates, written with P. F. Gmelin and G. R. Boehmer ; and Die Naturgeschichte der Versteinerungen zur Erläuterung der Knorrischen Sammlung von Merkwurdigkeiten der Natur, herausgegeben von J. E. I. Walch … (Nuremberg, 1755-1773) ; Dutch trans ., 3 p ts. in 4 vols. (Amsterdam, 1773) ; French trans ., 4 pts. in 6 vols . (Nuremberg, 1768-1778).

Subsequent works are Délices physiques choisies, ou choix de tout ce que les trois regnes de la nature renferment de plus digne des recherches d’un amateur curieux pour en former un cabinet … par Georg Wolfgang Knorr … Continue parses heritiers, avec les descriptions de Philippe Louis Stace Miiller, et traduit en francais par Mathieu Verdier de La Blaquiere …, 2 vols. (Nuremberg, 1766-1767), in German and French with color plates ; 2nd ed . (Nuremberg, 1779), in French alone ; and Recueil choisi de desseins de fleurs, a l’usage des dames, a 1’aide duquel on peut apprendre tres facilement et sans beaucoup d’instruction ’art de dessiner les fleurs, 2 pts . (Nuremberg, n.d .), with color plates .

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical notices of Knorr appear in Poggendorff, 1, 1284 ; G. K. Nagler, Kiinstler-Lexikon; Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, Kunstler- Lexikon, XXI, 30-31 ; and Nouvelle biographic generale, XXVII-XXVIII, 915. There are brief notices in La grande encyclopedia, XXI, 575, and Larousse’s Dictionnaire du XIX Siecle, IX, 1232. The best notice of Knorr is by Gumbel in Deutsche Biographic, XVI, 326-327. Details of Knorr’s life in these notices are from J. G . Meusel’s Lexikon vom jahr 1750 bis 1800 verstorbeuen teatschen schriftsteller, VII, 142, and G. A. Will’s Nurrbergisches gelehrten-lexicon.

Cecil J. Schneer