Decem tractatus astronomiae

Augsburg, Ehrard Ratdolt, 1491.


FIRST EDITION (first issue without added register). 4to, 408 leaves, a-z8, A-Z8, AA-EE8. Gothic letter. White-on-black decorated initials, unusually large printer’s device printed in red and black on final recto, several woodcut tables and diagrams, over a hundred beautiful mythological and zodiacal illustrations hand-coloured with remarkable variety, almost certainly in the print-shop, red hand-marking of all capitals throughout; couple of tiny wormholes on title and first gathering, mostly interlinear, marginal light dampstains on a few leaves at end, paper flaw to Ziiv affecting a couple of letters, old repair to outer margin of EEvi. A very, very good, unwashed and well-margined copy in sixteenth-century Germanic light-brown calf over boards, blind-tooled double-fillet panel, dentelles pattern to spine; a.e. later mottled in red; slightly scratched, minor old repairs to head and tail of spine; contemporary Latin ex libris on title ‘Liber sancti Nicolai ep[iscop]i in Bruwylre propre Colonia’.

Editio princeps of this vastly influential astronomical guidebook. One of the most handsome astronomies of the incunable period. Guido Bonatti of Forlì (died about 1296) was the most acclaimed mathematician and astronomer of the thirteenth century. His advice was sought by the Emperor Fredrick II and many of the Italian rulers or municipalities supporting the imperial cause against the pope, such as Florence, Siena and Forlì. In his Commedia (XX, 118), Dante placed Bonatti in Hell, amongst other astrologers forced to walk and look backwards for eternity as punishment for their sinful attempts to look into the future in life. Bonatti’s most famous work was this Book on Astronomy, written about 1277. This first edition was edited by the astronomer Johann Engel (1463-1512), including some additions by the German scholar Jacobus Canter Frisius (c.1471-1529).

The marvellous illustrations of the zodiac and the charioted Roman gods and goddesses are here coloured very skilfully by a contemporary hand using an uncommonly vast range of tones in the same image. Such a work must have been accomplished directly in Radtold’s print-shop, together with the painstaking simple rubrication. This striking copy was once in the Benedictine abbey of St. Nicholas in Brauweiler, in North-Western Cologne. Its valuable library was dispersed following the Napoleonic secularisation of 1802. A register was added to later copies of the print run but the majority had been distributed before it was available.

‘Opera importantissima, ripetutamente citata dagli astrologi e, in particolare, dagli astrologi inglesi del XVII secolo.’ Cantamessa, Astrologia, I, p. 119.

ISTC ib00845000; BM STC, II, 384; GW, 4643; Goff, B-845; Hain, 3461; Klebs, 195.1; Brunet, I, 1089; Graesse, I, 438; Cantamessa, I, 579; Thorndyke, II, 826; Houzeau-Lancaster, 4160; Ricciardi, I, 448-449.


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