PRINCEPS EDITION OF SIXTEENTH CENTURY CELESTIAL ATLAS

Theatrum mundi, et temporis.

Venice, Giovanni Battista Somasco, 1588.

£9,500

FIRST EDITION. 4to, pp. (16), 478, plus additional leaf after Mmiv and final folded table, final gathering misbound; decorated initials and tail-pieces, printer’s device on title; 144 astronomical illustrations, of which 31 (out of 51) with volvelles, very few skilfully restored with possible integrations from another exemplar; light foxing and little stains to margins in places. A good copy in contemporary vellum, early title inked to spine; couple of minor stains to front, spine chipped at tail; eighteenth-century Italian ms filling verso of title and other blank portions of text; early ink stamp of private library with crowned monogram ‘EME’ on title and verso of last leaf.

First issue of the princeps of this beautifully illustrated book, commonly regarded as the most charming celestial atlas of the sixteenth century. This copy also retains the additional folded table ‘Canon sexagenarius’ at the end. Giovanni Paolo Gallucci (1538 – c. 1621) was a well-known private teacher to the Venetian nobility and founding member of the Second Venetian Academy. For all his life, Gallucci engaged greatly with the Venetian printing industry: he edited a collection of astronomical medical essays including writings of Marsilio Ficino, published many works on astronomical and time-measurement equipment and translated into Italian Peckham’s essay on perspective, Dürer’s treatises on body symmetry and Acosta’s history of the New World. His most successful work, however, was certainly the Theatrum Mundi, a vast survey on terrestrial and celestial physics. It provides almost 150 maps for measurements, each accompanied by a Biblical quotation.

The work is dedicated to pope Sixtus (1585-1590), who had just banned all astrological literature since 1586. Although Gallucci could not resist to touch on some astrological implications of constellations, he questioned their alleged influence over human health and fate and pioneeringly tried to draw up a pure astronomical treatise. In his numerous diagrams and maps, Gallucci combined a coordinate system with a trapezoidal system of projection for an accurate determination of the star and zodiacal positions. Alongside the extraordinarily ingenious volvelle illustrations forming the first four books of Theatrum Mundi, there are depictions of Hell and its circles as inner portions of the Earth, the New World hemisphere and the wind rose, as well as calculators for tides and daytime at every longitude and latitude. Book 5 presents 48 maps of the Ptolemaic constellations and the related mythological illustrations. The star positions were taken from Copernicus’s catalogue.

‘Somasco printed blocks for division into small squares of woodcut ornament (a few with grotesque faces) to be pasted on the verso of the leaf over the string by which the separate pieces were attached. He left space for these squares in setting the text. On the verso of leaf Ooo4 are instructions to the bookseller, printed first in Latin and repeated in Italian. They state that the four leaves of separate illustrations were not to be bound in the book but should be cut apart and the pieces attached to the appropriate illustration [with silk thread] … the illustration on leaf Qir had six different version of one part; the one to be attached depended on the place in which the book was to be used.’ Mortimer, Italian Sixteenth Century Books, I, p. 298.

Rare. Only three copies recorded in the US (two in Harvard, one in Rochester).

BM STC It., 288; Adams, G 168; Graesse, III, 19; Mortimer It., 206; Riccardi, I, 568 (‘Raro … molto importante’); Cantamessa, 1682; Houzeau-Lancaster, 2725 (‘Rare’); Thorndike, VI, 158-159; Alden, 588/33.

L1975

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