Herbolario volgare

Venice, Giovanni Andrea Valvassori and brothers, 1534.

£27,500

8vo, 180 leaves, a6, A-X8, Y6 (Yiii and conjugate leaf misbound at the beginning after aaiii, aaii after aaiii). Roman letter; decorated initials, large vignette representing Saints Cosmas and Damian on title, woodcut of Virgin and Child on aaviv, 151 3/4-page illustrations, large printer’s device on final leaf recto; three tiny marginal wormholes to title and first two leaves, small largely interlinear worm trail to final four, clean marginal tear to Yv. A very good copy in contemporary light-brown calf, blind-tooled uncommonly silvered including title on upper cover, double-fillet, roll of fleurons, central panel with keys and crowns (heraldic symbols?) and corner and central floral Arabesque; probably by a provincial workshop of Northern Italy; all edges gauffered gilt; skilfully re-backed, upper corners chipped, three wormholes to front cover, small worm trail to rear.

Very rare complete copy of the first issue (27 July 1534) of the second Italian vernacular edition of the Latin Herbarius. Another issue appeared on 15 November of the same year. The more common first Italian translation was published as a quarto in 1522, whilst this and the subsequent Venetian editions are octavos, apparently designed to accommodate the needs of a wider and less educated readership. ‘The Herbarius … was anonymous, a compilation from medieval writers and from certain classical and Arabian authors, the latter doubtless quoted from translations… It was intended to treat of cheap and homely remedies for the use of the poor, such as could be found in the woods and meadows’ (Hunt).

Like the Herbarius, the text is here arranged alphabetically depending on plants’ names, thus the order differs slightly from that of the original Latin. This edition has a new vernacular translation, interestingly including several linguistic elements typical of Northern Italian dialects, especially those around Venice. It is also the first to be illustrated with a different series of woodcuts, based on the Hortus Sanitatis wooblocks. Chapter 89, usually tackling the Matricaria, is here devoted to honey, while a new chapter numbered 151, on wine and vinegar, has been added. Both these two variations were provided with their own special illustrations, namely honeybees and a wine cellar. The remaining 149 woodcuts all depict plants, herbs and roots, showing in two cases a simple countryside background. The charming Virgin and Child illustration is copied from the Venice 1492 Decameron.

All these popular Italian herbals are very uncommon, but this edition in its first issue stands out for its exceeding rarity. It is quite remarkable that such a popular book was bound so richly.

Only one perfect copy recorded in Italy (Salerno, private collection), possibly another defective in Oxford and in the US (Cincinnati). Not in BM STC It., Adams, Brunet, Graesse, Durling nor Wellcome. EDIT16, 76427; Hunt, 34; Klebs, 16 (no distinction between the two issues); Nissen, BBI 34.

L2000

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