ZONCA, Vittorio

ZONCA, Vittorio Nouo teatro di machine et edificii per uarie et sicure operationi con le loro figure tagliate in rame e la dichiaratione e dimostratione di ciascuna Opera necessaria ad architetti..

Padua, appresso Pietro Bertell, 1607


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. [viii], 88 [iv] 89-115, [i]. *2, a2, A-K4. L6, M-O4, P2. Roman letter. Fine engraved architectural title with putti, arms of the dedicatee above, angelic figure in oval below and forty two full-page engraved plates of machines, woodcut initials, typographical headpieces and ornaments, “Buchan” in a contemporary hand on title. Occasional light marginal spotting, the odd marginal thumb mark. A very good, clean copy, with good dark impressions of the plates in contemporary English vellum over thin boards, green silk ties, a little dust soiled, upper edge of lower cover with small tear.

Rare first edition of Vittorio Zonca’s wonderful, inventive and most influential work, one of the classic books on machinery of the late Italian Renaissance, beautifully illustrated with forty two engraved plates depicting machines for use in paper making, printing, flour mills, silk spinning, and a speculative machine using ‘perpetual motion’, amongst many others. The dedication is by the printer Bertelli to Rainuccio Gambara. Little is known about Zonca (1568-1602) beyond this his major publication which describes him as ‘Architect of the Commune of Padua’; it is evident from this work that he was practically involved with a wide range of disciplines, from hydraulics, to textiles, to printing. Zonca clearly takes his place along with Ramelli, Vrani, and Branca as one of the pre-eminent engineers of late C16 Italy, all of whom share a debt to Leonardo. The work is simply conceived with a detailed plate of each machine, a table of its parts, and a lengthy practical description detailing its function. Nearly all the machines from the “Novo Teatro” focus on water power, though some use humans or animals. Of particular interest are those relating to the manufacture of silk and other fabrics, to the printing press and the manufacture of paper and the operation of canals. He describes the application of the rolling mill to precious and other metals and Zonca appears to be the first engineer to remark that when running against steel any sort of metal other than brass is consumed. He depicts for the first time a set of water driven stampers used in the fabrication of paper pulp, a full description of a printing press with all its parts, and a press for printing engravings, such as in this work. He also describes various ‘filotoio’ or silk weaving machines that were very much ahead of their time. It was not for another hundred years that such machines made their way to England through the auspices of the eighteenth-century industrial spy John Lombe. There are also two interesting machines used for cooking or roasting meat that harness the power of the upward draft of air in the chimney to power a spit. One that stands out is a water pump in which Zonca shows a huge pipe for raising water working as a siphon that would effectively create a machine working in perpetual motion driving a mill-wheel for grinding grain. The idea of a continuous power supply for operating machines was clearly a significant part of Zonca’s research. Some of the engravings, monogramed FV, are by Francis Valesio, others monogramed, Ben W sc, are by Benjamin Wright, some still unidentified have the monogram AH or AHI or AI. The work enjoyed great success, even being translated into Chinese in 1627 by Johannes Schreck to show off the wonderful machines of the west. A very good copy of a beautifully illustrated work, with an intriguing early British provenance. Unfortunately we have not been able to identify the Buchan of the title but the work was undoubtedly bound in Britain, perhaps Scotland, at an early date.
This copy has a slightly different collation to others in that it has an extra two leaves in quire L, though it has the same number of plates.

BM STC C17th. It. p. 979. Riccardi, I 667. Cicognara, 970. Brunet V 1539. Dibner 173. Singer. History of Technology. Vol. III. Kress Lib. S. 366.
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