One of the most attractive illustrated natural history books of the early print period
42 Petrus de Crescentiis, Ruralia commoda – In commodum ruralium cum figuris libri duodecim[Speyer: Peter Drach, not before 1493.] Sixth Latin and second illustrated edition.
2°, 280 x 200 mm. 158 leaves, complete:A8, B-Q6, R8, S-Z6, a-b6, j4; (1)-153 numbered leaves, 1 blank leaf, 4 leaves index. – Two columns, 53 lines, Drach’s types 13:80G and 19:155G. 313 woodcuts in the text. – A very fine copy, leaf A2 with old repair of a torn corner (no loss of text), a stain to the fold of leaves 70-75, otherwise minor water-staining. Front endpaper with ownership entries (partly erased), back endpaper with longer French note, presumably of 16th century:“Fauct semer les refors le premier vendredy de fin de la lune d’apvril et les poreaux huict jours devant ou huicty jours apres la chaize sainct Pierre qui est environ la chandeleur et les letues pour pomer depuis le troisiesme jour de la lune de mars jusques au septme il faict bon en semer a la st George les chenevieres se sement par la pluye ou apres et les garder des oyseaux”. – Later leather binding in cloth box, recased, fairly rubbed. Paper signature on spine:“de crescentiis, Ruralia.”
PROVENANCE: 1. Owner’s note on front flyleaf: “Hieronimus” (surname erased) “Gieromes”[or b]”ymerix”, presumably 16th century. Probably the same hand as entry on back endpaper (cf. above). 2. Private collection, Europe.
TEXT: “The copy at hand comprises the sixth Latin and second illustrated edition of the important manual on agriculture, which is generally known as Ruralia commoda. It is one of the most attractive illustrated natural history books of the incunable period. Petrus de Crescentiis (1230/33-1320/21) initially studied medicine and natural sciences in Bologna, but then became a lawyer. He compiled his text around 1306, drawing on the Roman writers whose works form the ‘Scriptores rei rusticae’, Cato, Columella,Varro, and Palladius, and supplementing these from his own experience as a country landowner. “The contents of Crescenzi’s book provided anyone who worked on the land with a well-organized manual of procedure. The (book) is divided into twelve sections, each of which addressed itself to a specific agricultural topic. Book I discusses the best location and arrangement of a manor, villa, or farm, and touches on every necessary point from proper water supply to the dues of the head of the household. Book II provides the farmer with the botanical background needed to raise every kind of crop. Book III tells how to build a granary and a threshing floor, and how to cultivate cereal, forage, and food crops. Book IV is on vines, wine-making, the means of preserving both fresh and dried grapes. Books V and VI are on arboriculture and horticulture, respectively. Book VII is on meadows and woods, while Book VIII, which contains a quantity of original material, is on gardens, and is very much the model for gardening books of the 16th and 17th centuries. Book IX concerns animal husbandry and bee-keeping (honey was then the major source for sweeteners). Book XI offers a general summary of the work, and Book XII is a calendar of duties and tasks to be performed month by month” (Anderson 1977). The Ruralia commoda was translated into several languages after the mid-14th century and remained the leading standard work on agriculture until the 16th century. It was printed for the first time in 1471 in Augsburg by Johann Schüssler, though without illustrations. In 1493 Peter Drach published a German translation, illustrated with the same woodcuts as the present (undated) version. According to Nissen and Anderson, our Latin edition was printed before the German one, although this chronology has not been verified. The illustrations for Book X (Hunting and Falconry) are missing in the German edition, while they are all present in the Latin one. A comparison with Schramm’s reproductions of the German edition shows there are some border fragments of the woodcuts missing in our example. Both these aspects lead to the conclusion that the Latin edition was published after the German.
ILLUSTRATION: The woodcut illustrations have each been inserted into a single text column, where they fit snugly. Following a headline, they serve as visual introductions to a new chapter. Some openings show as many as four woodcuts at once and many of the woodblocks have been used to illustrate more than one chapter.The whole cycle provides an extraordinarily detailed survey of horticultural and farming activities in the 15th century. “The fine woodcuts represent husbandry scenes, many plants, animals, falconry, hunting, and other country pursuits. Quite a number of these cuts are created by the artist of the illustrations for the Spiegel menschlicher Behaltnis, also issued at Speyer (Schreiber V, 5270), who has been identified with the famous ‘Hausbuchmeister’. In any case, these cuts (...) represent the most remarkable group of middle Rhenish woodcutting in the 15th century. Other cuts, especially some of the plants, are copied from the Hortus sanitatis of Meydenbach” (cf. Klebs 1925).
RARITY: Rare.Though quite frequently found in the great public collections, ISTC records only one copy in private hands, seven of the known copies are incomplete.
LITERATURE: Hain 1826, no. 5826; Fairfax Murray, German, no. 127; BMC II, p. 499; Schreiber no. 3788; Schramm 1920, XVI, 17-292 and p.14; GW 7825; Klebs 1925, no. 310.6;Thiébaud 1934, pp. 220-221; Goff 1964, C- 969; Nissen 21969, no. 421; Anderson 1977.