Ephemerides recognitae et ad unguem castigatae

Venice, Lucantonio Giunta, 1533


FIRST EDITION. 4to, 324 unnumbered leaves. Roman letter, printer’s device to t-p and last. Detailed woodcut astronomical tables comprising almost the entire volume (ephemerides, all with charming woodcut ornamental motif at foot), horoscope diagrams, wind diagrams, birth charts and illustrations of lunar phases. Light marginal fingersoiling, small waterstain to lower margin of a few initial gatherings at gutter, slight foxing or yellowing to a couple of ll. A very good copy in contemporary limp vellum, a bit worn, couple of small holes in lower cover, spine a bit cracked with contemporary ms. title, yapp edges, traces of ties, a.e. blue (faded), C15 manuscript stubs from ‘Expositio Fratrum Regulae Fratrum Minorum”. Frequent contemporary Italian marginalia; contemporary ms. annotations to t-p: ex libris “Franciscus Bencius et Amicorum”, dates and times (“1511 ott[obre] ore 7 dinotte”), zodiac simbols; to verso of last: “Ampusa, amfusa, amchlusa / anpusa, anfusa, anchlusa”, 6-line ms. instructions on how to remove ink from paper using salt, water and the juice of a bitter orange (part of the second line appears to have been almost successfully cancelled), “Gio Boni naquit in Firenze addi 19 giugnio 1495 aore dua dinotte”. Three loosely inserted early papers containing sketch of an ephemeris birth chart, ms. letter from Sylvestro Iacobello to Franciscus Bencius, incomplete letter (first half missing, early C16) in a different secretary hand.

Interesting and attractive copy of the first edition of Gaurico’s ephemerides. Books of this kind had wide circulation, but complete copies are rare and sought after. This one, with interesting contemporary annotations and loosely inserted papers of an early owner, is an outstanding witness of the 16 th century’s great interest and expertise in astrology. Luca Gaurico (1475-1558) was the astrological consultant of Caterina de’ Medici and “one of the greatest astrologers of all time” (Cantamessa). Born to a to a poor family of Gauro (Kingdom of Naples), Gaurico taught at the Universities of Bologna and Ferrara. He was exiled and tortured by the ruler of Bologna, Giovanni II Bentivoglio, dissatisfied with the astrologer’s prophecies about his destiny. Gaurico predicted the papacy of Alessandro Farnese, Pope Paul III, who welcomed him in Rome as his personal astrologer and made him “table companion”, knight and later bishop.

‘Ephemerides recognitae’ contains the ephemerides for the years 1534-1551. These are detailed tables listing the predicted positions of stars and planets at regular intervals of date and time in the future, as well as the occurrence of eclipses. The numerical data was used by astrologers to compile birth charts (like the one sketched in ink on a loosely inserted piece of paper) and formulate predictions. Similar tables were also used by navigators to determine their position using celestial bodies or stars. An initial section contains preliminary notions of astronomy and mathematics, including tables of longitude and latitude of various cities, two large diagrams of the winds and more horoscope examples.

At the half of the 16th century, this volume belonged to “Francesco Benci and his friends”. From the contemporary manuscript notes, it appears that these included high-profile individuals from Perugia, Foligno and Camerino (Umbria, Italy). He can be identified with the Florentine Francesco Benci, treasurer of Perugia in 1542. Benci himself, and possibly some of his friends, used the ephemeris tables in this volume as if they were calendars, annotating all sorts of important events in the blank margins. These include religious festivities, the conclave in 1549, the birth of the twins of Margaret of Parma and Ottavio Farnese (dukes of Camerino) in 1545, a meeting between Pope Paul III and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1543.

Frequently mentioned is “Franciscus Jacobillus Fulgineo”: likely Francesco Jacobilli Senior (1510-1575), the most prominent member of the noble Jacobilli family of Foligno and vice-treasurer of Perugia in 1542. He was a close friend of Francesco Benci, who recorded the dates of birth of Jacobilli’s sons and family members. Loosely inserted is a short message to Benci from Silvestro Lucarello (or Lucarelli), astrologer of Camerino and author of a ‘Prognosticon’, a book of prophecies published in 1524. In the message, Silvestro asks Francesco to lend him his copy of Regiomontano’s ‘Tabulae directionum’, a volume of trigonometric tables designed for astrologers.

USTC 832018; Adams E202; BM STC It 16 th century, p. 292; Houzeau and Lancaster 14657; EDIT 16 CNCE 20516; Cantamessa N.2955. Not in Brunet, Graesse, Stillwell.
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