Very well-preserved collection of famous antique astronomy works printed by Aldus Manutius
47 Scriptores Astronomici Veteres – Julius Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis and other Greek and
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499. First edition of this collection.
Roman astronomical texts
2°, 277 x 185 mm. 376 leaves, complete: I6, a-g10, h12, aa-hh10, ii-kk8,A-D10, E12, F6, G-K10, L-M10, N6, N-S10,T8, 2 front and 2 back flyleaves. – Rubricated throughout, except the Greek text, red and blue lombard initials, several blue six- to ten-line initials with elaborate red penwork-flourishes and sometimes with green fillings. 39 (2 repeated) woodcut illustrations. – A beautiful and well-preserved copy with dark and clear impressions of the woodcuts. fol. K10 empty, had been removed earlier but restored again later on; fol. N6 had been torn in the middle - no text affected - but was fixed later on. – 18th-century half leather binding, gilt spine with label:“Astronomici Veteris”, joints restored.
PROVENANCE: 1.Manuscript ownership entry of 1812 on flyleaf: “Daß gegenwärtiges Exemplar der Astronomici veteris, Edition Aldi, in 4to von Seiten der Bibliothek Sr. königl. Hoheit, des Herzoges Albrecht zu Sachsen-Teschen gegen ein ähnliches Exemplar vertauscht worden ist, bezeuget meine Unterschrift.Wien im April 1812. Jos: CZösch” 2. Bookplate of Liechtenstein Library, late 19th or early 20th century. 3. Private collection, Europe.
TEXT: Julius Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, edited by Pescennius Franciscus Niger – Marcus Manilius, Astronomicon – Julius Caesar Germanicus, Phaenomena Arati cum commento – Marcus Tullius Cicero, Aratea – Rufius Festus Avienus, Phaenomena Arati – Aratus, Phaenomena cum commentaries (Graece) – Proclus Diadochus, Sphaera (Graece) – Thomas Linacre, Procli Diadochi Sphaera. Although the great advances in astronomy were not made until the first half of the 16th century, Scriptores astronomici veteres, a collection of Greek and Roman astronomical texts,was published with great foresight by Aldus Manutius in 1499. Firmicus’s Matheseos Libri Octo (Eight books of Astrology) forms the first part of the present edition.Written around 330 AD and first printed in 1497 by Simon Bevilaqua in Venice, it has been called “the most comprehensive handbook of astrology to come down to us from antiquity” (Franz Boll). The text also provides invaluable information concerning 4th century Roman society. This volume also includes previously unpublished works by Aratus of Soli and Proclus Diadochus, whose writings became influential during the Renaissance. The work of Aratus continued the tradition of the astronomical writings of Eudoxos of Cnidos, a pupil of Plato. His Phaenomena was written in Greek, but was translated into Latin at least three times in antiquity by Cicero, Germanicus, and Rufus Avienus, all of whose versions are united in this beautiful Aldine edition. Proclus, known as the great exponent of later Neoplatonism,was one of the first writers to discuss the precession of the equinoxes and the annual eclipses of the sun. Thomas Linacre, the renowned English humanist, provided a translation of Proclus’s De sphaera; other humanists such as William Grocinus contributed letters and introductions to this remarkable collection.
ILLUSTRATION: The Aratus, translated by Germanicus, is illustrated with 39 astronomical woodcuts, of which four are by the Poliphilus Master. His woodcut of the Pleiad reappeared a few months later in the famous Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. The Poliphilus Master was also responsible for the circular map of the constellations, the representations of Boötes with the wagon and Boreas.The other illustrations of the Aratus are reversed copies of the constellation figures in Ratdolt’s edition of Hyginus’ Poeticon astronomicon of 1482. The blue initials with the delicate penwork fleuronnée must have been inserted as early as the late 15th century. As they appear to be of French or perhaps Flemish origin, rather than in an Italian style, they imply a French or Flemish first owner of the print.
PRINTER: Aldus Manutius the Elder was a dedicated scholar of the Italian Renaissance. He established a printing company, the Aldine Press, where he produced his first dated publication in February of 1495. In nearly twenty years as a printer, Aldus laboured tirelessly at the press leaving the world a rich legacy of beautiful books and scholarly texts. These books are still admired for their attractive typography, clean lines, and good design as well as for their scholarly contributions. Through his publications,Aldus contributed to the survival of many ancient texts and greatly facilitated the diffusion of the values, enthusiasms, and scholarship of the Italian Renaissance across the rest of Europe.
RARITY: One of the few illustrated books published by the Aldine press. Complete copies of the work, especially the first edition, have become extremely rare; significantly, more than a third of all the copies recorded in Italy are incomplete. A meticulously decorated and well-preserved copy with an interesting provenance like this one would be extremely hard to find.
LITERATURE: Hain/Copinger 1895, 14559; BMC V, p. 560; Essling 1907, no. 1186; GW 9981; Sander 1942, no. 2781; Goff 1964, F-191; BSB-INK F-129; ISTC if00191000.