A Scarce, Attractive Copy, with Intriguing Early Provenance, Of a 16th Century Astronomical Work by an Author Convicted of Sorcery


(Venezia [Venice]: Gratioso Percacino, 1585). 175 x 112 mm. (6 7/8 x 4 3/8"). 68 p.l., 349, [31] pp. FIRST EDITION.

Contemporary calf covers laid onto later boards, upper cover with gilt supralibros of Jacob Conrad Praetorius von Perlenberg at center, his initials in gilt above it and the date "1586" below, lower cover with gilt olive wreath centerpiece, new spine with raised bands in 16th century style, panels with gilt rosette at center, later (19th century?) endpapers. Printer's device on title page, woodcut historiated initials, numerous woodcut charts, diagrams, and geometrical figures in the text, and three folding plates. Title page with ink ownership inscription of Praetorius dated 1586; verso of title with later (18th century?) inscription of Joannis Ferruit; b5v with name inked out in Preface; pp. 45, 83, and 257 with printed correction slips carefully pasted over errors in the text. Thorndike VI, 154-55; Adams B-247; EDIT16 CNCE 4262; USTC 812370. Mild crackling and a couple of minor stains to leather on boards, gilt on supralibros a bit rubbed, but the restored binding quite sound and lustrous. Title page lightly soiled and with neat repair to fore edge and corner, a couple of small marginal stains and short tears (from paper flaws), otherwise quite a pleasing copy internally, clean and fresh, with the folding plates remarkably well preserved.

This introduction to cosmography based on the geocentric universe of Ptolemy and on the 13th century work of the monk and astronomer Johannes de Sacrobosco was written by a Venetian aristocrat and humanist who ran afoul of the Inquisition for practicing magic. Barozzi (1537-1604) begins this work by explaining the geometry that underpins astronomical calculations. He then discusses astronomy, geography, and meteorology, including forecasting weather. Thorndike observes that he recorded "84 'errors' [in Sacrobosco’s work] . . . largely . . . matters of definition and order of treatment rather than astronomical mistakes or cosmographical sins." Notably, he summarily rejects Copernican heliocentrism as a "false opinion." Barozzi studied mathematics at the University of Padua and later lectured there on the topics covered in "Cosmographia," but his considerable personal fortune made it possible for him to work as an independent scholar, with no need to rely on academic posts or patronage for income. He translated a number of classical authors, including Euclid, Hero, and Archimedes, and produced other original works on mathematics. What attracted the attention of the Inquisition was not the books he wrote but the books he owned: works on magic and the occult. In 1587, he was tried and convicted for apostasy, heresy, and practicing sorcery, the latter including conjuring spirits and causing a torrential downpour in Crete. Because he was able to pay his penance in silver rather than blood, he avoided prison by donating a large sum for church crosses and by keeping holy water in his study to ward off supernatural manifestations. Like Barozzi, original owner Jacob Conrad Praetorius von Perlenberg (ca. 1550 - ca. 1640) was a wealthy nobleman who had studied at Padua (after receiving his degree in Frankfurt in 1574). It is possible he even had the opportunity to hear Barozzi lecture. According to the Swedish national digital heritage platform Alvin, Praetorius travelled widely in Europe and the Orient, collecting books along the way. In 1586-87 he purchased the library of French astronomer Antoine Mizauld. His collection was acquired by Cardinal von Dietrichstein and later removed to Sweden. ABPC and RBH record six copies of this work sold at auction since 1982, all with unfortunate defects. A clean, fresh copy like the present volume with the bonus of a contemporary binding and intriguing early provenance is a very opportune find.

Keywords: Astronomy, Cosmography