GEROLAMO CARDANO In Cl. Ptolemaei Pelusiensis IIII […] cum praeterea Geniturarum Exempla [with] De Subtilitate libri XXI,

Basle, Henricus Petri [with] Ludovicus Lucius, 1554


Folio, 2 works in one. FIRST EDITION of first, pp. (xx) 513 (iii); pp. (xxiv) 561 (i). Roman letter, some italic, rare greek. Woodcut historiated and floriated initials, printed side notes. Occasional contemporary marginalia in Latin and German. Woodcut portrait of author within ornate grotesque cartouche on first t-p, unidentified withdrawn library stamp on verso. Printer’s device on verso of first colophon leaf. Geniturarum Exempla with half title. 40 woodcut horoscope diagrams, more than 50 zodiac tables and astrological illustrations in first work. Printer’s device on second t-p, author’s portrait on verso within a circular frame. 50 woodcut illustrations of machines, mechanisms, objects, plants and animals, more than 50 geometric diagrams in second work. Mostly slight age yellowing, couple marginal worm holes to first two gatherings, small tear to lower outer corner of p. 107 not affecting text. A very good copy in contemporary calf over wooden boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design. Outer borders filled with a roll of religious motifs (Fall of Men, Kronos, Nehushtan/Bronze serpent, sacrifice of Isaac, David, resurrection of Christ), central panel double blind ruled with triangular compartments, little flower stamps at corners, double-headed eagle in two rectangular compartments at head and tail of central panel. Spine with four blind ruled raised bands, restored. C15 manuscript stubs. Original brass clasps with decorated anchor plates, lower clasp missing.

Two influential works by the Italian polymath Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1576) in a beautifully decorated contemporary binding by the German bookbinder ‘Meister des Kolumbaquartiers’ (Schunke 1937, 336; Einbanddatenbank 129874b), based in Cologne.

Expert in mathematics, biology, physics, astronomy, astrology and author of more than 200 works on medicine, Cardano is today most known for introducing the use of negative numbers in Europe for the first time (Ars Magna, 1545). The first edition of De Astrorum Iudicii represents one of his most controversial works on astronomy and astrology. Structured as a four-part commentary on the Tetrabiblos (in Latin translation) by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Ptolemy (100-170 AD), the book presents a series of astrological techniques aimed at demonstrating that all the main events in people’s lives can be attributed to the stars. In addition, the brief related volume ‘Geniturarum Exempla’ contains twelve horoscope examples illustrated with attractive diagrams and symbols, among them the horoscope of King Edward VI and of the Archbishop John Hamilton of St. Andrews (Genitura I and II). To these eminent personalities, Cardano predicts a bright future; however, it appears that the latter was hanged by the reformers, while the former died of tuberculosis not long after the publication of this work. The author goes as far as casting the horoscope of Christ: accused of heresy by the Inquisition for these pages, Cardano was imprisoned in 1570.

De Subtilitate Libri XXI is widely considered Cardano’s masterpiece and, due to its enormous success, it continued to be reprinted long after the author’s death. It is an encyclopaedia of natural science and metaphysics, divided into twenty-one books which respectively deal with: 1) matter and its natural motion, 2) the elements, 3) the sky, 4) light, 5) mixtures and compounds, 6) metals, 7) stones, 8) plants, 9-10) animals, 11-12) humans, their appearance and temperament, 13) the senses, 14) soul and intellect, 15) ‘de incerti generis aut inutilibus subtilitatibus’, 16) Sciences, 17) Arts, 18) Miracles, 19) Demons, 20) Angels, 21) God and the universe. This edition constitutes Cardano’s update to the first of 1550, and it accounts for more recent geographical discoveries and philosophical discourses. Among the detailed woodcut illustrations, the ones representing machines are perhaps the most fascinating: these include a suction pump, the Archimedean screw, a hoist, and many others. In the pages discussing engineering, Cardano also informs us that Leonardo da Vinci tried to fly, but he failed. In the section regarding the sky (Liber III) the author describes the stars observed by Amerigo Vespucci during his third voyage to the Indies.

1) USTC 604947; Adams C680, Houzeau and Lancaster 4856; VD 16 P5255; Durling 3770; Wellcome I, 1287. Not in Alden. 2) USTC 601653; Adams C670; VD 16, C932; Riccardi I, 252, 6.3.; Wellcome I, 1291. Not in Alden.