FITNESS AND EXERCISE IN THE 1500s
De arte gymnastica.
Paris, Jacobus du Puys, 1577.
4to. ff. (iv) 201 (i.e. 200) (xiv), last blank, roman and greek letter, 24 full-page woodcut illustrations, woodcut head-pieces and initials, old repair to outer margin of p. 50, slight water stain to some lower outer corners, rust hole affecting one letter p. 63. In contemporary English calf, blind stamped arabesque to each cover, original spine remounted, citron edges. Blind stamp of the Earls of Macclesfield at the head of first couple of leaves, their armorial South Library bookplate on front endpaper. A very attractive copy.
First published in 1569, it was reprinted in 1573 with illustrations designed by Pirro Ligorio and cut by Cristoforo Coriolani. This is the third edition, the second illustrated, reprinting the original woodcuts.
‘[This] was the first complete text on gymnastics and stresses the importance that all forms of exercise have in maintaining good health. Relying heavily on ancient practices, this work is an excellent compendium of the physical therapy of earlier times. Mercuriale describes ancient gymnasia and baths and discusses mild exercises such as dancing as well as more strenuous pursuits such as wrestling and boxing. He also gives full consideration to the health benefits of proper exercise, and concludes the book with a section of therapeutic exercises’ (Heirs of Hippocrates).
Mercuriale (1530 – 1606) combined a medical career with antiquarian and historical interests. His first great patron was Cardinal Alexander Farnese and it was during his time in Rome, where he had the opportunity to study the classical and medical literature of the Greeks and Romans, that he wrote the present work, a culmination of his studies on the ancients’ approach to diet and exercise. On its success he was appointed to the chair of practical medicine in Padua, and called on to treat Emperor Maximilian II, to whom this edition is dedicated, and who in thanks made him a Count Palatine. He was, however, forced to leave Padua in 1576 after having pronounced Venice safe from a plague which killed many. He later held posts at Bologna and Pisa, called there by Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to increase the prestige of the university. Mercuriale’s work left a wide reaching legacy in education, and influenced Richard Mulcaster, the high-master of St. Paul’s (from 1596), who advocated exercise as a complement to study in his ‘Positions concerning the training up of Children’ (1581).
A fine copy in an Elizabethan binding (see Pearson, ‘English Centre-Piece Bookbindings 1560-1640’ in ‘Eloquent Witnesses,’ edited by Mirjam Foot (2002), p. 116, fig. 4.f.). From the library of the Earls of Macclesfield at Shirburn Castle. For reproductions of the illustrations, see Mortimer, Harvard C16 It. 302 “Jaques Du Puy’s Paris edition of 1577 has woodcuts which are close copies of the Giunta blocks.” (p. 442).
BM STC Fr. p.311. Wellcome I, 4225. Adams 1321. Heirs of Hippocrates 223 (1587 ed.). Osler 3387 (1569 ed.). Garrison and Morton 1986.1 (1569 ed.). Brunet III 1646 (note). Graesse IV 495 (note).