HERBAL Tractatus de virtutibus herbarum

Venice, Simon Bevilaqua, 1499


4to. ff. 172. A4, a-x8. including final blank. Roman letter in two sizes, 28 lines part 1, 37 lines parts 2, title in Gothic. Large white on black floriated initial, capital spaces with guide letters, 150 numbered half-page woodcuts of plants (a few misnumbered), bookplates of Carleton P. Richmond and Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow on pastedown. Single wormhole in lower blank margin, very occasional minor marginal thumb mark. A fine copy, crisp and clean, on thick paper, with very good margins, in cream paper over boards c. 1800, orange paper labels gilt, head and tail fractionally rubbed.

A lovely copy of the second Italian edition of the Herbarius, the first illustrated herbarium printed south of the alps. Many of the woodcuts, first used in the Vicenza 1491 edition, differ substantially from those of the earlier German editions. The blocks, cut for that Vicenza edition, were imported to Venice by Simon Bevilacqua for this one. Following an error in the text, the work was wrongly attributed to Arnaldus de Villanova. The text is divided into two sections. The former features 150 woodcuts of plants which grew in Germany, arranged in alphabetical order with a Latin name and a description of their  properties and medical uses. Among the best known are garlic, basil, camomile, ivy, gentian, genista, lily, lemon verbena, mallow, mint, marjoram, mandrake, oregano, leek, poppy, rose, rosemary, currant, spinach, willow, sage, violet, valerian. Among the rarest is ‘artemisia’ or mugwort, a plant used in the past to cure female illnesses and problems. A bath in the water of a decoction made essentially with mugwort and laurel’s leaves would induce abortion of a foetus and menstruation. Mugwort was also used to treat frigidity and sterility, and to keep demons away from home.

The latter section, in 96 chapters, deals with the medicines and herbs available from German apothecaries and spice merchants such as laxatives; aromatics, fruits, seeds and garden plants; gums and resins; salts; minerals and stones; and animals and their products (goose-greese, cheese, honey and ivory). The purpose of the work was entirely practical. The illustrations are stylised and simple and full of charm, and the names are printed clearly in capital letters, so that the plants could be easily identified by, and accessible to a barely literate public. A very valuable and popular pharmacopoeia which went through a number of editions, of which the Italian ones display “a different and better set of figures” (Arber p. 17). “These drawings are more ambitious that those in the original German [editions], and, on the whole, they are more naturalistic. A delightful example, almost Japanese in style, shows an iris at the edge of a stream, from which a graceful bird is drinking. In another picture the fern called ‘capillus veneris’, which is perhaps intended for the maidenhair, is represented hanging from rocks over water” (Arber, pp.192-93). A fine, very fresh copy of this important and beautifully illustrated edition.

BMC V, 524. BSB-Ink. H-104. Early Herbals 11. Essling 1190. HC 1807*; IGI 5677; Klebs 506.11. Nissen BBI 2308. Pellechet 1315. Sander 612. Wellcome 3101. Goff H-69.

In stock