Sphaera mundi [with] Disputationes contra Cremonensia in planetarum theoricas deliramenta [with] Theoricae novae planetarum.

Venice, Boneto Locatello for Ottaviano Scoto, 1490.


4to, 48 leaves, a-f8. Roman letter; black-on-white decorated initials, large red printer’s device on final recto, numerous astronomical illustrations, including one full-page, six colour printed yellow, one red and yellow and the famous armillary sphere at aiiiv; first and final leaves slightly browned, light damp stain to lower outer corner, marginal repair on title, bviii and final leaf. A good copy in nineteenth-century vellum, gilt panel with floral decorations at corners, title gilt on front cover and along spine, a. e. r.; contemporary German scholarly annotations extensively throughout (slightly cropped), mainly in Latin, dated 1505 at ciir, by the hand inscribing on the upper outer corner of title ‘Johannes Desba[rlau?]’ est possessor huius libri’; on front pastedown, early bookplate of Johannes Karl von Westernach, canon of the chapters of Augsburg and Friesing, dated 1734, along with ex libris labels of Hanns-Theo Schmitz-Otto (1908-1992) and the Olschki[?] family.

Early and accurate Venetian edition of an astronomical masterpiece, with neat illustrative apparatus and additional essays of the two most prominent Renaissance scholars in the field. Sacrobosco’s Sphaera was the most popular introduction to spherical astronomy in early modern times. Written around 1220 and printed in 1472, it had been re-published hundreds of times by the end of the following century. This edition includes two important Renaissance works, building on Sacrobosco’s theory. The first is a short essay by the distinguished astronomer Johannes Regiomontanus (1436-1476) against the ‘delirious’ hypothesis (deliramenta) put forward in the twelfth century by Gherardo of Cremona, whose textbook was often attached to the earliest edition of the Sphaera. The second work, edited by Regiomontanus’s himself, is a lecture script by his teacher Georg von Peuerbach (1423-1461), entitled Theoricae novae planetarum. Since the Theoricae drew extensively from Greek and Arabic tradition and provided the most up-to-date account of contemporary astronomical knowledge, they quickly became a fundamental manual for students, replacing even Sacrobosco. Scientists such as Kepler and Copernicus grounded their theories on this booklet.

This edition retains the elegantly instructive woodcuts designed and cut by Johannes Santritter and Hieronymus de Sanctis in their edition in 1488; amongst them, the most famous is the full-page illustration on the verso of title, depicting the enthroned personification of Astronomy holding an astrolabe and armillary sphere, flanked by the Muse Urania gazing at the celestial vault and Ptolemy reading through his Almagest. The planetary illustrations in the last two gatherings of the book  provide one of the earliest examples of polychrome printing.

This copy was used for study by an unidentified contemporary German astronomer, who filled it over and over throughout the years with his annotations and diagrams, changing sizes of writing and pens. He especially went through Sacrobosco’s and Peuerbach’s essays and occasionally reported first-hand stellar observations following the guidelines in the texts, including one dated 14 May 1505. At the end, below the final register, he drafted a curious list of the advantages of studying astronomy.

ISTC, ij00409000; BM STC, V, 438; GW, M14646; Goff, J-409; Hain, 14113; Houzeau-Lancaster, 1641 (‘rare’); Klebs, 874:14; Cantamessa, 3959; Essling, 261 (no 260 for 1488 edition); Sander, 6664 (‘Il y a des exemplaires avec le diagr. Imprimés en couleurs’); Graesse, VI, 209.


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