A rare early edition, likely the fifth in the original Italian, of a significant book of secrets first published in 1563 and attributed to the anatomist Gabriele Falloppio (1523-1562), though probably written by the iconoclastic physician Leonardo Fioravanti (1517- c. 1588). The first five editions were all printed in Venice, with the book given its lasting form by the editor of the 1565 second edition, Borgaruccio Borgarucci. Copies of the first five editions are well-represented institutionally but rare on the market, and only two other copies have appeared at auction in recent decades.
Books of secrets, compilations of natural and technical knowledge, were a popular medieval and early modern genre with roots stretching back to the Hellenistic period. As William Eamon, one of the foremost scholars of the subject, writes in Science in the Secrets of Nature, “Underlying these works was the assumption that nature was a repository of occult forces that might be manipulated, not by the magus’s cunning, but merely by the use of correct techniques. The utilitarian character of the books of secrets gave concrete substance to this claim. Unlike the recondite treatises on the philosophical foundations of magic, which barely touched base with the real world, the books of secrets were grounded upon a down-to-earth, experimental outlook: they did not affirm underlying principles but taught ‘how to.’ Hence they seemed to hold forth a real and accessible promise of power... What they revealed were recipes, formulas, and ‘experiments’ associated with one of the crafts or with medicine: for example, instructions for making quenching waters to harden iron and steel, recipes for mixing dyes and pigments, ‘empirical’ remedies, cooking recipes, and practical alchemical formulas such as a jeweler or tinsmith might use... By the eighteenth century such ‘secrets’ were techniques and nothing more. In the sixteenth century, however, the term was still densely packed with its ancient and medieval connotations: the association with esoteric wisdom, the domain of occult or forbidden knowledge, the artisan’s cunning... and the political power that attended knowledge of secrets” (Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature, pp. 4-5). This particular volume explores a wide range of secrets, the first chapter covering medicine, the second wines and spirits, and the third alchemical and metallurgical recipes, including producing gold and silver from lead; working with precious metals, iron, and copper; producing cosmetics (”red for women’s faces”); and also includes more unusual recipes such as how to carve letters into marble without iron and how to make an inextinguishable candle.
Books of secrets were often spuriously attributed to famous doctors, philosophers, and occult figures as a marketing strategy. When Secreti Diversi et Miracolosi was first published in 1563 its Venetian printer Marco di Maria explained that the compilation had “fallen into his hands” after the great anatomist’s death, and that the contents were the results of Falloppio’s own successful experiments. However, Eamon cautiously attributes the text to Leonardo Fioravanti. “Indeed, the work praises the Bolognese surgeon so effusively that it reads like an extended advertisement for Fioravanti’s books” (Eamon, pp. 166-167). Fioravanti’s “marvellous” ability to cure syphilis, his treatments for wounds and leprosy, and his most recent books are all promoted. In 1563 Fioravanti was still a young man establishing himself, hence the need for promotion. But he eventually became well-known, an outspoken critic of contemporary medicine and “one of the wonders of the age” whose “skill as a surgeon and unorthodox medical practices made him the focus of a cultlike following” (Eamon p. 168).
Bibliography: USTC 828720, Welcome I, 2161; Thorndike VI, p. 218
...Racolti dal Falopia, & Approbati da altri Medici di Gran Fama. Novamente Ristampati, et à Commun Beneficio di Ciascuno, Distinti in Tre Libri... Venice: Alessandro Gardane [for Giacomo Leoncini], 1578.
Small octavo (145 x 90 mm). Early-18th century vellum, paper covered spine with manuscript library label, blind fillets, red speckled edges. Publisher Giacomo Leoncini’s woodcut device to title page and the verso of the final leaf, 5 woodcut initials. Some contemporary or near-contemporary pen marks and short notes in the margins, many partially trimmed, more significant 12-line manuscript note to the recto of the final leaf, and pen trials, a partially illegible name, and a child’s doodles to the verso of the same leaf. Vellum peeling a little from a corner of the upper board, some marks and spots to the vellum, minor area of insect damage to pastedowns and early and late leaves only slightly affecting the text, ink stain to K2 and adjacent leaves. Very good condition.
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