BRUNSCHWIG, Hieronymus


Liber der arte distulandi simplicia et composita : das nüv bůch d[er] rechte[n] Kunst zů distilliere[n], ouch vo[n] Marsilio Ficino vn[nd] andere[n] hochberömpte[n] Ertzte natürliche vn[nd] gůte Kunst, zů behalte[n] den gesunden Leib vn[nd] zů vertreibe[n] die Krankheiter[n] mit Erlengeru[n]g des Lebe[n]s.

[Strassburg, Johan Grüniger, 1509].


Folio. ff. cxxx (i.e. cxl), (lviii) in double column. A⁸, B-D⁶, DD⁶, DDD⁴, E-T⁶, V⁸, X⁴, Y-Z⁶, AA-CC⁶, DD⁴, EE-FF⁶, GG⁸. Gothic letter. First title with two large woodcuts, the other two with half page woodcuts, one double page woodcut, innumerable half page and column width woodcuts, all in fine contemporary hand colouring, capital spaces with guide letters, white on black and floriated woodcut initials. Light age yellowing, slight water staining on lower blank margin of a few leaves, early restoration of three holes to lower blank margin of title, backed at foot, the odd marginal thumb mark or spot. A very good copy, with woodcuts and colouring in wonderful fresh state of preservation, crisp and clean with good margins, in excellent contemporary German calf over wooden boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, middle panel filled with a fine blind scroll of hunting scene of three dear and a huntsman with spear, central panel filled with repeated blind floral scroll, semé of flowers stamped in black, “Distillirrbuch’ stamped in large black Gothic letter in upper panel of front cover, spine with three blind ruled raised bands with blind ‘crown’ fleurons above and below, lacking clasps and catches, small restoration in places, a little rubbed and scratched.

A wonderful copy of this rare and most interesting compilation, beautifully illustrated and vividly coloured in a contemporary hand, preserved in a fine contemporary binding. It is a pharmaceutical and alchemical collection first published in 1505 under the title ‘Medicinarius. Das Buch der Gesundheit’ and including books I and II of Brunschwig’s ‘Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus,’ also called ‘Kleines Destillierbuch; Ficino’s Das Buch des Lebens,’ translated by Johannes Adelphus; and a treatise on compounds by a Strassburg master, Konrad.

Hieronymus Brunschwig (c. 1450 – c. 1512) was a German physician, surgeon, chemist, and pharmacologist whose ‘Liber de arte distillandi simplicia et composita’ (‘Little Book of Distillation’), was the first book to systematically describe essential oils, their distillation and extraction from plants, and their medicinal applications. The wonderful hand-coloured woodcuts show detailed instructions on the distillation process. The first part of the treatise describes the methods and apparati for the distillation of extracts from various plants and animals. The second part describes certain medicinal plants, and the third part contains an exhaustive list of maladies along with a corresponding list of plant distillates and extracts recommended.

“Because of their completeness Brunschwig’s compilations of the technical terms adaptable to pharmacy in the early sixteenth century and his records of his experience in the treatment of gunshot wounds and in surgery are noteworthy accomplishments. Even if they are not the first of their kind, they still represent an important link between the Middle Ages and modern times.” (DSB I, p. 547) The work is most beautifully and interestingly illustrated including vivid images of gardens and banquets. “With detailed instructions, ranging from the right times to collect herbs to the exact specifications for constructing distillation equipment, Brunschwig hoped to make medicinal alchemy accessible to ‘the common people that dwell far from medicines and physicians and for them that not be able to pay for costly medicines,’ he wrote.” Cristina Luiggi ‘Medicinal Alchemy, circa 1512.’

Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 99) was one of the leading intellectuals in Florence, a magnet for the most brilliant scholars of fifteenth-century Europe. His ‘De vita’ is a curious amalgam of philosophy, medicine, ‘natural magic’ and astrology, and is possibly the first book ever written about the health of the intellectual and its peculiar concerns. It includes astrological charts and remedies, philosophical digressions, medieval prescriptions for various ills, attempts at reconciling the Neoplatonism of Plotinus with Christian scripture, and magical remedies and talismans.

“The work that Ficino composed alongside his commentaries on Plotinus, his influential astral-medical treatise, ‘De vita libri tres,’ or ‘Three books on life,’ published in 1489 … is listed is Borel’s ‘Bibliotheca Chimica’ as another of Ficino’s alchemical works.  … One of the most revealing examples of how Ficino’s de Vita was assimilated into the alchemical tradition can be found in the translation of the first two books as ‘Das Buch des Lebens’ in 1505 by the Strasbourg physician and humanist Johannes Adelphus Muling. The German version was re-edited several times and printed together with editions of two of the most highly regarded works on distillation. One of these was Hieronymous Braunschweig’s ‘De arte distillandi’ and anyone familiar with the 1500 title page of Braunschweig’s much reprinted work will notice how it has been adopted by the publisher of the 1505 edition as an illustration for Ficino’s text.” Peter J. Forshaw. ‘Laus Platonici Philosophi: Marsilio Ficino and His Influence.’

Unfortunately, we have not been able to identify the binder from the tools, though the Einbanddatenbank has other tools with very similar hunting scrolls. Interestingly, the copy illustrated at the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek, BSB Call Nr.: Res/2 35 has the same title blind-stamped on its binding, suggesting that this was probably the production of the same binder, or probably the publishers binding. A beautiful copy with the colouring absolutely fresh and clean.

Wellcome 1113. Not in BM STC Ger. C16th, Osler, Durling or Duveen.


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Praeciosa ac nobilissima artis chymiae collectanea.

Nuremberg, Gabriel Hain, 1554.


FIRST EDITION. 4to, ff. (8), 124. Roman letter; printer’s device on title, large historiated initials and full-page alchemical illustration; a few leaves lightly browned. A very good, wide-margined copy bound with folded fifteenth-century German manuscript leaf on vellum of liturgical music over eighteenth-century boards; black and red text of various Psalms with music sheet and two red and blue decorated initials; slightly rubbed on spine, a couple of small stains to rear cover, corners a bit bumped and chipped; on front endpaper, seventeenth-century owner’s inscription ‘Cathena,’ tiny old bookseller’s stamp on front pastedown and modern pencil shelf marks on front endpaper and title versos.

Fine copy of the rare first edition of a fundamental text on alchemy. Janus Lacinius, probably a humanist pseudonym, is thought to be Giovanni da Crotone, a Franciscan friar from Calabria. This German edition was considered for a long time a reprint of another alchemical collection by Lacinius, published by the Aldine press in Venice in 1546 (Pretiosa Margarita Novella de Thesauro); however, despite the similarity in the titles, the contents are substantially different, and this Praeciosa collectanea is now correctly regarded as a first edition.

In this book, Lacinius provides a detailed overview of the vast world of alchemy, describing in particular how to obtain the philosophers’ stone through many stages of metal refinement. The large initial woodcut depicts a sort of an outdoor laboratory, with a scholar handling a huge vessel, and a massive circular furnace crackling behind him.

The printer’s dedication presents alchemy as a useful and Christian discipline, and addresses Anton Fugger’s nephews, Johann (Hans) Jakob (1516 – 1575) and Georg (1518 – 1569). Their renowned book collections are extensively praised and hailed as unparalleled venues for the preservation and transmission of knowledge, where a book like Lacinius’ must not be missed. Hans Jakob Fugger was one of the greatest collectors of his time, gathering some 12,000 volumes, mostly provided with fine luxurious bindings and including the collection of Hartmann Schedel, the author of the Nuremberg Chronicle. In 1571, the bulk of Hans Jakob’s books was purchased by the Duke of Bavaria and is now held in the Bavarian State Library. The library assembled by Georg Fugger, less known and extensive, was nevertheless very rich in mathematical, astronomical, astrological, and other scientific works.

Rare. Not in Adams, Brunet or Caillet.

BM STC Ger., 480; Duveen, 332; Ferguson, II, 3;Graesse, IV, 63; VD16, L34; Wellcome, 3608.


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Dell’elixir Vitae

Naples, Secondino Roncagliolo, 1624.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. (xii) 182 + 19 full-page engraved plates depicting distillation equipment and techniques (on ink splashed on blank verso). Roman and Italic letter, woodcut initials throughout, head- and tail-pieces, title page in architectural engraving surrounded by cherubs and two figures of alchemists. Title page dusty, light age yellowing, occasional foxing, worm trails to rear endpapers, contemporary vellum over boards, spine with a few worm holes, marbled edges.

Very rare first edition of Fra Donato’s treatise on distillation, with beautiful illustrations of alchemical equipment and experiments in progress (perhaps by the author himself), including a description of his pursuit of the elixir vitae, thought to grant eternal youth and immortality, illustrated in serial plates. The work also demonstrates how to produce different varieties of alcohol as well as olive oil. The first three chapters discuss the elixir or life, but the longer fourth book details the ingredients and processes by which it can be made. The work also discusses the merits of distilling trees, herbs, spices, fruits, and the uses of each essence, as well as its chemical properties. Occasionally, the distillation of animal and mineral essences is described. In this way the work fits its seventeenth century setting: not just uncovering alchemical secrets, it also offers the results of practical experiments with a wide range of materials. The beautiful and highly detailed plates are present here in very fine and clear impression.

Fra Donato d’Eremita was a Dominican from Rocca d’Evandro, in Caserta. He was an apothecary of some repute at the monastery of Santa Caterina, and a peripheral figure in the Accademia dei Lincei, as he counted among his friends Giambattista della Porta, Ferrante Imperato, and Nicola Stiglioa. His name turns up in correspondence with the Academy, and Johannes Faber describes visiting him while passing through Naples collecting plant and seed specimens for his patron Prince Cesi. ‘The author of the kingdom’s first published pharmacopoeia, the protophysician Quinzio Buongiovanni, insisted that apothecaries be prohibited from preparing “compositions with simples” without having been inspected first by one of the guild officials and the protophysician. For this reason, Buongiovanni was present when the head apothecary of the Dominican monastery of Santa Caterina a Formello in Naples, Fra Donato D’Eremita, prepared his famous “elixir vitae”. But then again, Buongiovanni may have been invited by d’Eremita, along with other dignitaries  (Giambattista della Porta and Nicola Stigliola), to launch his product as part of a publicity stunt’ (Gentilecore cit. infr.).

The work is dedicated to Ferdinand II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, whose arms are engraved on the title page. Known for his passion for science and his vast collection of scientific instruments, Ferdinand’s own alchemical and scientific experiments are registered in the archives for the Academy of the Cimento, founded by his younger brother Leopoldo. Doubtlessly Ferdinand would have been fascinated by d’Eeremita’s experiments in immortality. (cf. Acton).

Not in BM STC It. C17. Wellcome I 2069; Krivatsy 3672. “His substantial treatise on the Elixir of Life shows he was thoroughly conversant with alchemical processes and practices. The fact that this striking book has escaped the researches of most of the bibliographers must be due to its rarity.” Duveen p. 176. Gentilcore, Healers and healing in early modern Italy, pp 41-42. Harold Acton, The Last Medici, 38. Not in Caillet, Ferguson,  Thorndike, etc.


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