ON REAL AND FANTASTIC GENETIC MALFORMATIONS

Monstrorum historia cum paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium.

Bologna, Nicolò Tebaldino for Marco Antonio Bernia, 1642.

£17,500

FIRST EDITION. Folio, two volumes in one. 1): pp. (8), 748, (28); 2): pp. 159, (9), lacking final blank. Predominantly Roman letter, some Italic and little Greek; elegant engraved title by Giovanni Battista Coriolano with oval portrait of dedicatee, the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand II, surrounded by personification of Faith and Justice and seven putti holding six medallions with ancient monstrous creatures and classical mottos, historiated initials and decorative head- and tail-pieces, over 300 large or full-page illustrations of monstrous or exotic creatures, separate title for 2), printer’s device on final verso; very occasional light damp stain to gutter, a couple of leaves dusty. An exceptionally good, well-margined copy in vellum from a mid-fifteenth-century double-columned manuscript of Biblical extracts in a Northern Italian hand with either Austrian or Southern Germany pink, blue, green and gilt decoration, contemporary title inked on spine with later shelf mark label; three original green silk laces out of four, yapped edges; a little soiled, tiny loss to spine; at head and foot of title, contemporary ex libris of Count Wolfgang Engelbert von Auersperg dated 1655; on front pastedown, armorial bookplate of the Auersperg family library in Ljubljana.

First edition, densely illustrated, of the unsurpassed early modern investigation of genetic deformities (both real and fantastic) in human and animal bodies. Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) is regarded as the father of modern natural history due to his pivotal contribution to zoology, botany and geology. An erudite scholar of wide-ranging interests, he was the first professor of natural science at Bologna university. There, he established a renowned botanical garden and gathered a steady amount of specimens and detailed drawings of faunal and floral rarities in his private museum. Everything was later bequeathed to the City Senate. The majority of his extensive scientific essays was published posthumously by his pupils with the support of the Bolognese Commune.

This highly entertaining history of monsters is by far Aldrovandi’s most famous work. It includes all sort of multi-limbed and similarly deformed babies, girls, animals, plants and even stars, as well as mythical creatures such as Chimeras, Harpies, Sphinxes, Cyclopes, giants, centaurs, satyrs, gryphons, lycanthropes, mermen and mermaids. One can also find an early lavish illustration of the North American turkey cock (Gallus Indicus), an insight into uterine malformations, and depictions of Chinese, Sumatran, Java, American and African people. The second part of the work is taken up with additional entries to Aldrovandi’s animal history, describing other monsters and, remarkably, some exotic animals like llamas, hippopotami and pelicans, all with related illustrations.

This copy was bought by, and most likely bound for, the Austrian nobleman Wolfgang Engelbert von Auersperg (1610-1673), governor of Carniola and brother of Emperor Leopold I’s prime minister. A fine book collector and munificent patron, especially of Italian culture, he organised in his private garden in Ljubljana one of the earliest representation of an opera in Central Europe.

“Described are numerous American birds and beasts with native names cited, including an ‘Elaphocamelus,’ i.e. a llama.” Alden, 642/2.

BM STC 17th It., 15; Bruni-Evans, 109; Garrison-Morton, 534:53; Heirs of Hippocrates, 330; Nissen ZBI, 74; NML-Krivatsy, 187.

L1999

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