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LEOPOLDUS of Austria


Compilatio de astrorum scientia.

Augsburg, Erhard Ratdolt, 9 January 1489.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. 110 unnumbered leaves. a–n⁸, o⁶, (lacking blank o6). Roman letter. Entirely rubricated including white on black floriated woodcut initials, many woodcuts, including full page “sphaera mundi,” two printed in red and black, illustrating signs of the zodiac, classical deities, celestial spheres, astrological charts, heading on N1 verso corrected in contemporary hand, list of titles, crossed out on first leaf, in later hand. Title page backed, small worm trail restored in blank margins of first three leaves, minor waterstain in lower blank margin, the odd spot or mark. A very good copy, crisp and clean in later calf, covers bordered with a double blind rule, re-backed, spine partially remounted, corners restored.

First and only incunable edition of this important and influential astronomy treatise by the 13th century astronomer, Leopold of Austria, beautifully illustrated with a fine set of woodcuts. Ratdolt, who was even more widely renowned as a polymath and astronomer than as a printer, also published the astronomical works of Albumasar and Hyginus. His woodcuts for those projects are among the earliest known printed figures of constellations, and the same blocks were employed for this edition of Leopoldus in Ratdolt’s Augsburg workshop. Two of the astronomical diagrams are printed in red and black, a technique pioneered by Ratdolt.

Primarily a work of astrology based on the writings of Albumasar, the sixth book concerns meteorology both from theoretical and practical points of view, and includes folkloric methods of weather prediction as well as general descriptions of winds, thunder, and other natural elements. Although virtually nothing is known of the author, the work was influential in the late Middle Ages, being cited by the great astronomer, Pierre d’Ailly, and admired by Regiomontanus, who proposed to edit it. Ratdolt dedicated this edition to Udalricus de Frundsberg, bishop of Trient. In the introduction, Leopold states that he cannot take credit for the work as there was more than one author, and that he is just a “fidelis illorum observator et diligens compilator.” His stated goal is to describe the motions of the stars, with a particular focus on their effect on the universe. He describes Astronomy as the foundation of and a necessary starting point in the study of astrology.

The Compilatio is divided into ten treatises: the first and second are on spheres and their motion. There is a dissertation on the nine comets at the end of the fifth book, beginning with a short discussion of Aristotleʼs theories, which recounts the opinion of John of Damascus (676 ‑ c. 749), who asserts in his “De Fide Orthodoxa” that these celestial bodies announce the death of the King, and that they do not belong to the stars created in the beginning, but are formed and dissolved by God’s will. He then gives a list of the nine comets and their Latin names, ending with the meanings derived from their presence in each Zodiacal sign. The volume includes a transcription of Albumasarʼs “De magnis Conjunctionibus.” A very good copy of this beautifully illustrated and rare first edition, one of the earliest books effectively illustrated with scientific diagrams.

BMC II 382. Goff L185. GW M17974. Hain 10042. Caillet 6636. “Incunable de toute rarité” Brunet III, 1033. “Edition rare.” Honeyman V 1989. Cantamessa II 4422. “Imponente e importante trattato in 10 libri.” Houzeau‑Lancaster 4702 “fort rare.”