THE ART OF MEMORY
Thesaurus artificiosae memoriae.Venezia, Antonio Padovani, 1579
FIRST EDITION. 4to, ff. (xvi) 145 (i). Italic and Roman letter, woodcut floriated initials, headpieces with angels and masks, typographical ornaments. Printer’s device to t-p, one double page plate and several full-page diagrams and illustrations depicting the circles of hell, celestial spheres, the human body, a tree, animals, alphabets, a sign language. T-p a bit dusty, slight age yellowing, light browning to one gathering, intermittent light waterstain mainly to lower blank margins, small wormholes to upper blank corner of a few central gatherings. A very good, exceptionally wide-margined, untrimmed copy in contemporary limp vellum, three ties preserved. Early C15 manuscript stubs from ‘Summa totius artis notariae’ by Rolandino de Passaggeri (c. 1215-1300), early numerical annotations to fly, ms. autograph “Franco dei Franci” and “Al suo carismo et l(?)” (ruled through) to verso of rep. Loosely inserted paper (probably temp. WWII) with ms. text of ‘Ananizapta’, a spell against death popular in the Renaissance.
A remarkable copy of this popular and fascinating treatise on the art of memory, by the Florentine Dominican friar Cosma Rosselli (d. 1578). This is the first edition, edited and published after Rosselli’s death by his brother Damiano.
The classical art of memory (Ars memorativa) consisted in a series of mnemonic techniques that could be used to impress certain concepts, ‘images’ or ‘places’ on the mind, but also to ‘invent’ new ideas. Theorised by the Greek and Romans, it was adopted by mediaeval monks for meditative reading and composition. In the 16th century, the Dominicans were the main advocates and users of mnemotechnics, and published works to make this art more widely accessible. Together with the German Johannes Romberch (c. 1480-1532), Cosma Rosselli is regarded as one of the most influential Dominican memory teachers.
‘Thesaurus artificiosae memoriae’ (Thesaurus of artificial memory) is a curious and entertaining manual, described as useful to preachers, philosophers, physicians, jurists, orators. It is divided into two sections: the first is concerned with ‘loci’, or mnemonic places where memories can be stored. “Most likely influenced by the cosmological vision of the great poet Dante, Rosselli proposed to use the entire world, starting from Hell and Purgatory, and move through the realm of the four elements to finally reach the Empyrean sky, the Christian paradise depicted as heavenly Jerusalem. Once constructed, these mnemonic places in the mind allow readers to freely choose the appropriate one to store the information. For example, the locus of Paradise should be used for remembering theological doctrines; the physical worlds of the four elements are selected for secular matters, while the celestial sphere fits astronomical knowledge.” (Kuwakino) Simple but very attractive woodcuts show how these realms of memory – and all their constituent parts – can be imagined.
The second part deals with ‘figurae’, or images, which can aid memory through visual associations. Among the most interesting examples, several tables contain ‘visual alphabets’, in which letters are formed using pictures of objects that resemble their shape; they are meant to be used to compose inscriptions in the mind. Remarkably, this volume also contains the earliest known representation of a finger alphabet, a manual sign language. Rosselli shows how to position fingers in different ways to make letters, and combinations of letters will be easily remembered through repeating gestures. Though presented here as a mnemonic technique, this is a fundamental step towards the development of the hand as an instrument of communication that can substitute oral and written language.USTC 853484; Adams R803; BM STC It., p. 588; Brunet IV, p. 1402; Graesse VI, p. 167; Durling 3947; Wellcome I 5572. K. Kuwakino, ‘From domus sapientiae to artes excerpendi’, in Cevolino (ed). Forgetting Machines (2016). Cf. F. Yates, The Art of Memory, 1966.