SUPERBLY ILLUSTRATED GERMAN HERBAL

 

Gart der Gesuntheit, zu Latin Ortus sanitatis.

Strasbourg, Balthasar Beck, 1529.

£29,500

 

Folio. 144 unnumbered leaves, a6-z6 A6. Large Gothic letter, double column. 400 ¼ page attractive woodcuts (4 on t-p) of animals, plants, and the processing of stones, gems, and metals. General light age yellowing, marginal spotting, edges a bit dust-soiled, a few small marginal tears. Very good, well-margined copy recased using older vellum.

Superbly illustrated, rare second edition of this German text on medicinal knowledge and the natural world. The ‘Gart der Gesuntheit’ is based on the ‘Hortus sanitatis’ (1491), a most important encyclopaedia of natural history, which was itself an enlarged edition of the German botanical book ‘Herbarius’ (1485). In addition to treatises on herbs and their medical uses from ‘Herbarius’, the ‘Hortus’ also featured essays on animals, fishes, birds, stones, gems, and metals. The ‘Gart der Gesuntheit’, printed by Johann Prüss in 1509, first made this extra material available in German, as a supplement to ‘Herbarius’.

 

The 400 attractive woodcuts were made after the blocks of Prüss’s ‘Gart der Gesuntheit’, which had been originally cut for his 1496 edition of the Latin ‘Hortus’. They portray common animals and exotic creatures drawn from C16 travelogues, classical mythology, and the Bible. In his attempt to depict them to the life, the artist blended nature and invention to visualise mirabilia like the ‘monachus marinus’ or ‘monoceron’, half fish-half monk. The lively scenes from everyday life which illustrate the final section represent the processing of stones, gems, and metals. The cuts are charming, striking, and generally in very good impression.

 

The ‘Gart der Gesuntheit’ is divided into four parts and subdivided into chapters listing the characteristics of most animals and stones as well as their medicinal ‘effects’. In the first part, everyday creatures like the lamb and the viper share the pages with the mythological amphisbaena and the more exotic elephant (effective for the treatment of poisonous bites and fluid in the brain). Among the birds in the second part are the Arabic phoenix and the nightjar (for bleary eyes). The third section on fishes features the most extraordinary woodcuts, like those of the dolphin (useful against recurring fever), half human-half fish, and the triton, half fish-half knight in armour. Fascinating chapters on asbestos (against burns), arsenic (for the treatment of sexual diseases), and petroleum (for backache) complete the book in the final section.

Yale, Huntington, NLM, and JHL copies recorded in the US.

Nissen ZBI 4727; K121. Not in BM STC German, Brunet, Becher, or Fairfax Murray. See Arber, Herbals, their Origin and Evolution, p. 32; Becher, A Catalogue of Early Herbals, pp. 11-28 (does not mention this edition).

 

K121

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