De Animalibus Insectis libri septem.


Bologna, apud Ioannem Baptistam Bellagambam, 1602

FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. (xii) 767 (xlv). [Without engraved portrait] Roman and Italic letter, some Greek. Elaborate engraved title within architectural border by Francesco Valesio (Benezit, X, p. 376), arms of Francesco Maria II Della Rovere Duke of Urbino, putti and female allegorical figures at head, cariatids (Nature or Earth) at sides, Diana with dancing maidens at foot, woodcut initials, some historiated, grotesque head and tailpieces, printer’s device on last, innumerable beautiful and detailed woodcuts of all sorts of insects (some full page) throughout, Mss ex-libris of Wolfgang Engelbert von Auersperg at head of t-p recording its inscription in his catalogue in 1655. Slight age yellowing, pale waterstain, heavier in places, small wormholes to lower outer margin in first part of work. A good, crisp copy in a vellum bifolium from a early fifteenth-century monastic manuscript of Biblical extracts in a Northern Italian, or Swiss hand, double-column, rubricated in red and blue, contemporary title inked on spine with later paper shelf mark label, two original green silk ties of four, yapp edges, a little soiled, small closed tear to head of spine.

First edition of this very handsome work on insects from one of the most important and specialised zoological encyclopaedia of the Renaissance, and the first encyclopedia of the insect world. The third volume of Aldrovandi’s ‘Opera’ (Bologna, 1599-1667), the entire 13 volume collection deals with birds, quadrupeds, snakes, fishes, molluscs, metals, plants and fabulous animals. Aldrovandi played an important role in the development of natural history because he extended it to embrace all natural science, including animals and minerals as well as plants, (formerly considered only if they were of medicinal value), and because he advocated direct observation and practical study of natural world. “He travelled continually, taking with him several artists for the illustration of his books” (Osler, p.170), among these were Lorenzo Benini of Florence and Christopher Coriolanus of Nuremberg. The present volume is one of the four that were published during the author’s lifetime. Opening with a full-page table of classification, it includes numerous varieties of insects, such as bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, cicadas, flies, locusts, crickets, beetles, ants, bugs, fleas, scorpions, worms and, finally, the aquatics such as the beautiful starfishes. The period in which Aldrovandi lived and studied was a transitional one. Natural histories were usually compilations based on secondhand information such as ancient descriptions or accounts of travellers and merchants. On the other hand, some extraordinary minds, Aldrovandi among them, were striving to achieve an experimental dimension to science. Thanks to these pioneers, during the C17th works of much more critical character began to appear and in the following century the field of natural history began evolving into a formal scientific discipline.

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1625), of a noble and important family (his mother was cousin to Pope Gregory XIII), studied mathematics, Latin, law, archeology and medicine, until ultimately he focused on natural history. Professor at the University of Bologna, enthusiastic naturalist and traveller, passionate collector of natural specimens and scientific books, he also created in Bologna a great botanical garden, of which he was named the first curator. At his death, Aldrovandi bequeathed to the city of Bologna his museum and his library.

This copy was bought by, 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.

BM STC It. C17th p.14. Graesse I p. 65 “Avec beaucoup de gravures en bois”. Brunet I 155. Wellcome I 172. Osler 1764. Honeyman I 65.


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