Medicine and Natural History Italian Books I

A pocket vernacular edition, illustrated with 151 woodcuts

Herbolario Volgare: nel quale se dimostra conoscer le herbe: et le sue virtu: et il modo di operarle: con molti altri simplici: di novo venute in luce: et di latino in volgare tradutte: con gli suoi repertorii da ritrovar le herbe: et li rimedij alle infirmita in esso contenute... . Venice, Giovanni Maria Palamides, 31July 1539.

8° (154x101 mm). Collation: AA6, A-X8, Y6. [6], 152, [22] leaves. Title-page in red and black, with a large woodcut vignette showing Saints Cosma and Damian. 151 woodcut illustrations depicting plants, all but two of which feature sacred images (fol. AA6v and Y6v). Contemporary blind-tooled calf, widely restored. Spine with four raised bands, rebacked. Original pastedowns and flyleaves preserved. A very good copy. The gutter of a few leaves slightly wormholed, without any loss. Some pale marginal waterstains.

Provenance: erased eighteenth-century ownership inscription on the title-page.

$ 8,000

Rare early edition of this popular and richly illustrated herbal, first issued in quarto size in Venice in 1522. All Italian vernacular herbals are of the greatest rarity. Latin and vernacular herbals were so successful because their simple alphabetical arrangements allowed herbalists, apothecaries, and physicians to easily access essential concepts of pharmacopoeia that earlier medieval authors had drawn from antiquity. From a scientific point of view, however, they are of little value, as their often-imprecise descriptions do not allow for the identification of plants, and therapeutic uses are frequently associated with magical-astrological practices. All early printed herbals basically derive from the Herbarium erroneously attributed to Apuleius as well as the Herbarius Maguntinus, which first appeared in Mainz in 1484. Both fifteenth-century editions are based on an older manuscript tradition which had combined ancient and medieval knowledge of plants. In Italy, the text of the Herbarius Maguntinus was reprinted in Vicenza in 1491 under the title Tractatus de virtutibus herbarum with a new series of woodcuts and an incorrect attribution to Arnaldus of Villanova. In the Herbolario volgare, text and pictures are derived, with few variations, from the Vicenza Latin incunable. The present is the fifth edition in Italian, a substantial reprint of the edition issued in Venice in 1534 by Vavassore, with some variants in the illustrative apparatus. “All the woodcuts belong to the Latin Hortus Sanitatis, but are not printed from the blocks used in the 1534 edition. The cut of the annunciation occurs first in a devotional book of 1524 […] The woodcuts 109, 143 and 149 are slightly different from the corresponding ones in the 1534 edition; the woodcuts 2-3 are exchanged by misprint” (Klebs, pp. 9-10).

Klebs 18; Pritzel 10766; Nissen, Die botanische Buchillustration, 2318; Essling 1196; A. Arber, Herbals, Their Originand Evolution. A Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670, Cambridge 1912, pp. 11-13.