Leone, Ambrogio (1459-1525).
Nouum opus quęstionum seu problematum ut pulcherrimorum ita utilissimorum tum aliis plerisque in rebus cognoscendis tum maxime in philosophia & medicina scientia. Venice, Bernardino and Matteo Vitali, 28 August 1523.
Folio (314x216 mm). Collation: a4, A-P4.  leaves. Complete with the last blank. Roman type. Title-page printed in red within woodcut floral-patterned border stamped in blue ink. Woodcut printer's device on fol. P3v. Fine contemporary limp vellum. On the upper cover the title 'AMBROSII NOLANI PROBLEMATA', inked in capital letters within a frame composed of four concentric circles. Smooth spine, the title inked vertically in gothic type. Traces of ties. Binding slightly loose. A handsome, unsophisticated copy.
Provenance: early ownership inscription on the title-page, almost illegible.
The exceedingly rare first and only edition of this collection of miscellaneous observations by the physician, mathematician, historian, and philosopher Ambrogio Leone, originating from Nola (near Naples), and active in the Aldine printing house as a proof-reader. The work collects numerous quaestiones naturales and deals with a wide range of topics in philosophy, science, and medicine, including the first description of syphilis ever to be published, seven years before the appearance in 1530 of the poem Syphilis, sive De morbo gallico by Girolamo Fracastoro. Leone was already at work on this collection in 1507-1508, while collaborating with Aldus Manutius and Erasmus of Rotterdam. The work is considered one of the earliest 'libri de secreti' to appear in print. “In 1523, in order to satisfy his passion for miscellaneous observations, Ambrogio Leone also printed in Venice one of the first 'libri di segreti': this was his Opus quaestionum [...], on which he was already at work while collaborating with Erasmus in 1507-08, but which, as usual with Ambrogio, matured very slowly and was only printed in 1523 [...] It is important to notice that questions like the first one – why Bacchus is represented with horns and a beard – call to mind Polizianus' Miscellanea, the various Castigationes, the Adagia of Erasmus as well as many collections of proverbs and emblems inspired by these works” (P. Zambelli, “A Nolan before Bruno, Momus and Socratism in the Renaissance”, pp. 258-259).
This Venetian edition includes an exceptional feature in the context of early Italian Renaissance printing: on the title-page the title's lines are printed in red within a fine woodcut floral-patterned border stamped in blue ink. This exquisite woodcut frame shows a continuous design in four parts, and first appeared, stamped in black, in the illustrated Vitruvius of 1511 printed by Giovanni Tacuino, whose woodcuts – as Lilian Armstrong suggests – are reminiscent in style of one of the most esteemed and sought after designers and illuminators active in Venice, Benedetto Bordone (1450/55-1530). Bordone might be responsible for the design of this fine border on shaded ground with parallel lines, which was later re-used in black for the title of Bordone's famous isolario, the Libro nel quale si ragiona de tutte l'Isole del mondo issued in Venice in 1528.
In Venice, in 1514, Ambrogio Leone published his De Nola Opusculum, a historical survey on the origin and history of his birth city. The volume was printed by Giovanni Rosso and supplemented with four copperplates by Girolamo Moceto (see A. M. Hind, Early Italian Engravings, II, vol. 5, pp. 170-71, nos. 19-22). In some copies, these engravings are printed in varying colours of green, red, dark brown, and blue-grey ink, possibly revealing – as with the 1523 edition of the Problemata – Leone's personal interest in colour printing.
F. Barberi, Il frontespizio nel libro italiano del Quattrocento e del Cinquecento, Milano 1969, I, p. 125; L. Ammirati, Ambrogio Leone nolano, Marigliano 1983: L. Armstrong, “Benedetto Bordon, 'Miniator', and Cartography in Early Sixteenth Century Venice,” Eadem, Studies of a Renaissance Miniaturist in Venice, London 2003, 2, p. 621, note 91; P. Zambelli, “A Nolan before Bruno, Momus and Socratism in the Renaissance”, Eadem, White Magic, Black Magic in the European Renaissance, Leiden-Boston 2007, pp. 254-264; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 73.