FINELY ILLUSTRATED BOOK OF SECRETS
Tesauro di Euonomo Filatro de rimedii secreti.
Venezia, appresso Giovanni Battista II & Melchiorre II Sessa, [1556.]
FIRST EDITION thus. 8vo. ff. 152 (xvi). Italic letter, little Roman. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, 60 ¼-page woodcuts of herbs and methods and instruments for distillation, decorated initials. Intermittent light browning, a few marginal marks. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, traces of ties, title inked to upper cover, C16 and C17 ms herbal recipes with references to text on eps, ms ex-libris c1600 ‘Hic liber fuit ex-libris [illegible] D. Romani Macioni, q[uem] mihi d I[ohannes](?) Bapt[ist]a eius f[i]lio, et [illegible] ex [illegible] mihi facto’ to fly.
A good copy of the FIRST EDITION—‘unknown to all bibliographers…extremely rare’ (Kraus/Duveen 246)—of this extremely successful and handsomely illustrated first Italian translation of a medical book of secrets. Conrad Gesner (1516-1565), a Swiss naturalist, studied natural and medical sciences at Lausanne, Montpellier, and Zurich. Renowned for his zoological masterpiece, ‘Historia animalium’, he was also an expert on botany and compiler of florilegia on surgery. First published in Latin in 1552 (under the pseudonym ‘Evonimus Philatrus’), by the time it was published in Italian the work had already been reprinted numerous times and translated into French. The in-depth botanical knowledge and the handsome woodcut illustrations came from Gesner’s studies for the composition of his unfinished ‘Historia plantarum’. ‘Tesauro’ reprised the structure of the successful genre of ‘books of secrets’, dating back to the middle ages, which provided information and recipes for herbal medicine and the combination of substances useful for domestic management. Unlike them, it focused however solely on the ‘chimia’ of ‘liqueurs, waters, oils and sauces’—substances obtained artificially through distillation—giving precise instructions for professional results against the poor ones achieved by incompetent physicians and ‘speziali’. Gesner compiled from a wide variety of sources—from Llull and Hippocrates to obscure medical monastic accounts or private memoirs—the uses and properties of specific distilled substances like ash tree trunk (against the plague) or turnip (to induce the expulsion of urine or sweat). He then examined instruments (vases and furnaces) and techniques (‘balneum mariae’ and the use of horse dung) for distillation, followed by a list of waters, oils and balms with instructions on how to obtain them, e.g., a concoction made of pyrethrum root soaked in wine to heal rotten teeth. The printer Melchiorre Sessa advertised ‘Tesauro’ as ‘full of very true secrets and very lively medicines’ which can help ‘retain youth and delay old age, because it is no life that which is spent among infirmities’—a practical book for everyday consultation by medical practitioners and non-experts alike. One of the earliest owners of this copy, who used a Venetian spelling, noted in an elegant secretarial hand particular recipes with their page numbers. A slightly later hand mentioned a Dionisio Florentino Cerusico (surgeon) and a list of substances identified as a ‘secreto’ (recipe) of Fra Vincenzo Napolitano.
Giovanni Battista Maccioni was a famous C17 musician, but nothing is known of his family and we have found no example of his handwriting.
4 copies recorded in the US.
Durling 2085; Wellcome 2781; Kraus/Duveen 246. Brunet II, 1565, Graesse III, 69 and Ferguson I, 315 do not mention this edition. Not in BM STC It.