ALONSO DE HERRERA, Gabriel Libro de agricultura

[n.p], [n.d.], [c. 1539-40]


Folio. ff. (ii) 200. Large Gothic letter, double column. T-p in red and black framed by architectural arch with putti and royal arms of Spain above, small heads, phoenixes and interlacing cranes at sides, and putti flanked by birds chasing dogs beneath; decorated initials. Very faint ink mark to t-p, minimal mainly marginal spotting, small expert repair to outer blank margin of fol. 66, few ll. slightly browned. An excellent copy in modern half calf over cloth boards, spine gilt. Bookplate of Andre Simon to front pastedown, early ecclesiastical ex-libris to verso of t-p, inked over, occasional early annotations.

Excellent copy of this remarkably rare edition in Castilian of a C16 bestselling manual on the best practice and secrets of agriculture—‘one of the fundamental texts of the Spanish Renaissance’ (Rodilla, ‘La Medicina’, 437). This edition, with no information on printer, place and date of publication, appears to be unrecorded in major bibliographies, except that of Andre Simon, who calls it ‘contemporary to the edition of 1539’ printed by Brocar in Alcalá de Henares. Gabriel Alonso de Herrera (1470-1539) was a Franciscan agronomist and brother to the humanist Hernando and the musician Diego Alonso de Herrera. He is most renowned for this ‘Libro de agricultura’, first printed in Castilian in Spain in 1513, which underwent 12 editions in the C16 alone and was translated into Latin, Italian and French. It was a compilation based on a variety of agricultural and medical sources, including Greek (Galen and Hippocrates), Arabic (Avenzoar and Avicenna), and Latin ‘De re rustica’ authors (Columella, Cato, Varro and Palladius). Following the classical tradition, Herrera presented a holistic view of the agronomist as knowledgeable in the cultivation of crops and trees, techniques for making soil and water suitable for agriculture and horticulture (e.g., how to fix defects in wine), the forecast of adverse weather conditions, farming and herbal medical remedies. He also injected into this solid tradition new ideas—based on contemporary agricultural theories and his own experience—concerning the identification of high-quality seed which should be grown separately from the rest to improve the quality of crops, as well as plant reproductive morphology, i.e., he believed that plants could be masculine or feminine. The intended readership was ‘on the one hand…the more or less rich landlords; but, on the other hand, the medical advice it offers and the therapeutic evaluation it performs of each plant suggest that its interlocutors were the “farmers of towns and villages where the presence of a doctor was inconceivable”’, an illiterate audience to whom this matter was reported orally and whom Herrera sought to reach more easily, for the first time in Europe, by using the vernacular (García, ‘El Libro de Agricultura’, 6, 10). A very rare edition of this pioneering, enormously influential agricultural manual.

Andre Simon (1877-1970) was a wine merchant and author of numerous works on wine, including the famous bibliography ‘Bibliotheca bacchica’.

No copies recorded in the US.Simon 337: ‘contemporaine de celle de 1539’. Not in Palau, Wilkinson, Iberian Books, BL STC Sp., Oberlé or Bitting. M. Quirós García, ‘El Libro de Agricultura de Gabriel Alonso de Herrera: un texto en busca de edición’, Criticón 135 (2015); B.M. Gutiérrez Rodilla & M. Quirós García, ‘La Medicina en el Libro De Agricultura de Gabriel Alonso de Herrera’, Romance Philology 71 (2017), 437-66.
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