LEOPOLDUS of Austria

LEOPOLD of Austria Compilatio de astrorum scientia

Augsburg, Erhard Ratdolt, 1489, 9th Jan


FIRST EDITION. 4to. 110 unnumbered leaves. a–n , o . [lacking blank o6]. Roman letter. Entirely rubricated including white on black floriated woodcut initials, many woodcuts, including full page ‘spheara 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, rebacked, spine partially remounted, corners restored.

First and only incunable edition of this important and influential astronomy, 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 printed 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 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 a theoretical and a practical point of view, and includes folkloric methods of weather prediction and general descriptions of winds, thunder etc. 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 he was just a ‘fidelis illorum observator et diligens compilator’. He states his goal is to describe the motion of the stars, and to focus particularly on describing their effect. He describes Astronomy as the necessary starting point and foundation for the study of astrology.

The Compilatio is divided in ten treatises: the first and second on the spheres and their motion. There is a dissertation on the comets at the end of the fifth book, beginning with a short discussion of Aristotle’s theories, which recounts the opinion of John of Damascus (676-749 ca.), 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. These are a transcription of Albumasar’s ‘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 L-185. GW M17974. Hain 10042. Caillet 6636. \"incunable de toute rarité” Brunet III, 1033.“édition rare”. Honeyman V 1989. Cantamessa II 4422. “Imponente e importante trattato in 10 libri”. Houzeau-Lancaster 4702 “fort rare”.
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