(Mediolani [Milan]: I. P. Aere & Petri Caietani Viviani, 1744). 265 x 197 mm. (10 1/2 x 8"). 1 p.l., LII, 134 pp.,  leaf. Second Edition.
Contemporary mottled calf, front joint repaired, covers with triple gilt fillets, raised bands, spine gilt in compartments featuring central floral ornament and foliate corner decoration, burgundy morocco label, marbled end papers. Engraved lynx of the Accademia dei Lincei on title, decorative woodcut headpiece and tailpieces, two engraved headpieces of medallions, two engraved historiated initials, and 38 DELICATE FULL-LEAF ENGRAVED PLATES of plants and sea creatures. Front pastedown with 19th century bookseller's ticket and with bookplate of the Horticultural Society of New York, noting that this volume was bequeathed by Kenneth K. Mackenzie, 1934; one text page with embossed stamp of the society. Hunt 165; Nissen 386; Pritzel 1822. Joints and extremities a bit worn, small loss of leather from spine ends, covers a bit pitted (as usual with treated calf), but the binding quite sound and not without appeal. Occasional traces of foxing, primarily in the margins, a few other trivial defects, but generally A VERY FRESH AND BRIGHT COPY INTERNALLY, the plates with good, strong impressions.
This work is a milestone in the field of botany: in addition to being one of the earliest books to have engraved (as opposed to woodcut) pictures of the plants discussed, it was the first to use not just leaves, but also flowers to identify plants. Fabio Colonna (1567-1650) was a thorough and precise scientist who recognized the importance of accuracy in describing plants that would be used medicinally. His research, using both dried specimens purchased from apothecaries and live plants collected in the fields, revealed to him the hazards of relying upon leaves alone to identify an herb: too many plants with widely different pharmacological effects had leaves that looked very much alike. However, if one examined the flowers, including their pistils, stamens, and petals, one could see meaningful distinguishing characteristics. A descendant of the great Colonna family, our author suffered as a youth from epilepsy, a fact that led him to study the works of Greek and Roman physicians, and from this study he developed an interest in botany. He was credited with the discovery of about 80 new plants, and the present book, his main work, continued to be of interest long after its original publication date of 1592--as can be seen from the appearance of our second edition a century and a half later (there is, however, no later antiquarian edition). Not only are the original plates here among the earliest copper engravings to show plants, but they are also some of the most pleasing botanical engravings from any period. Our illustrations are later copies, but they are also very appealing in the delicacy of their detail. The present edition has additional material, including a life of Colonna, a new preface, and a short history of the Accademia dei Lincei (containing short biographical sketches of its members, one of whom was the author). The 1592 and 1744 printings seem to be of equal scarcity, and while the earlier edition has obvious appeal because of its priority, our volume contains engravings that are faithful reproductions of the originals and can be obtained for about a tenth of the price. (CDT1704)
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PJP Catalog: 74.092