Mechanicorum liber.

Pesaro, Hieronymus Concordia, 1577.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. ff. (viii) 131 (v). Roman and Italic letter within double-ruled border. Attractive woodcut with globe (Africa, Europe, and Terra Australis Incognita) and Latin motto to t-p, over 250 woodcut diagrams in text, decorated initials, typographical headpieces, a.e.r, some yellowing to outer blank corner of t-p, very light water stain to lower fore-edge of final ll. A very fine, tall copy with original margins, crisp and clean, in very good contemporary Italian limp vellum, lacking most of ties. Ms ex-libris of Wolfgang Engelbert von Auersperg at head of t-p recording its inscription in his catalogue in 1655, title label with casemark (probably C17) on spine, C19 Auersperg bookplate to front pastedown.

A very good, crisp, well-margined copy, of excellent impression, of Guidobaldo del Monte’s most influential work on mechanics. Born in Pesaro, del Monte (1545-1607) studied mathematics at Padua, where he befriended the poet Torquato Tasso. After taking part in the Hungarian war against the Turks, he returned to Italy and continued his studies in mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics with Federico Commandino at his estate near Urbino. Based on contemporary and classical sources, the ‘Mechanicorum liber’ marked out del Monte’s scholarly fame for its outstanding discussion of statics and mechanics. It influenced the theories of Galileo, whom del Monte supported at the start of his career. In the dedication to Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, del Monte celebrates the noble art of mechanics which favourably dominates and assists everyday human activities, including the work of carpenters, porters, architects, sailors, and peasants. The ‘Mechanicorum liber’ is divided into six parts; the first is devoted to the balance and the following to five machines: the lever, pulley, wheel on an axle, wedge, and screw. These summarised the fundamental processes to which all mechanical actions could be brought back—a theory derived from Heron of Alexandria, Pappus, Archimedes, and Aristotle. Key to del Monte’s argument was the notion of a centre of gravity, on which he disagreed with his contemporaries and which he illustrated through the operations of the balance. Whilst the work is rigidly subdivided into ‘definitions’, ‘propositions’, and ‘lemmas’, and illustrated with detailed geometrical representations of the principles of statics, in the preface del Monte’s humanist sensitivity discovers the nobility of mechanics even in Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, where Neptune uses his trident as a lever to lift the Trojan ships ashore. Using the illustration of a globe from Franciscus Monachus’s ‘De orbis situ ac descriptio’ (1527), the t-p finely depicts Archimedes’s famous statement on the power of the lever: ‘Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth’.

This copy belonged to Wolfgang Engelbert IV (1641-1709) of the House of Auersperg, an Imperial noble family of Slovenian origins, closely involved with the Habsburg court.

BM STC It. p. 446; Bibl. Mat. It. I, 178; Riccardi I, 178: ‘Raro.’. Not in Brunet, Graesse, or Sander. 


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