February 10, 2011

The Rubrics of the First Book of Lactantius Firmianus's On the Divine Institutes Against the Pagans Begin …

This very rare work by Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius is one of the first books printed in Italy and the first dated Italian imprint. It was produced by the German typographers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, who established a printing press in 1465 at the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco, near Rome. According to the colophon, the book was completed “In the year of Our Lord 1465, in the second year of the papacy of Paul II, the thirteenth indiction and the last day but two of the month of October. In the venerable monastery of Subiaco.” Sweynheym and Pannartz moved to Rome in 1467 and by 1475 had printed 50 books, including works by church fathers and classical Roman authors. This volume contains the seven books of Lactantius’s most important work, Divinarum institutionum libri VII (The divine institutions), and two minor works by the same author. Born in North Africa late in the third century AD, Lactantius was a teacher of rhetoric who, after his conversion, wrote works patterned after classical models that explained Christianity in ways intended to appeal to educated Romans still practicing the traditional religions of their empire. Written between 303 and 311, Divinarum institutionum argues the futility of pagan belief and the logic and truth of Christianity. The beginning of the volume contains a table of nine explanatory commentaries introducing the texts that follow. Throughout most of the book, the first letters of paragraphs are in red or blue, and the beginnings of chapters are handwritten in red. Initial capital letters illuminated with gold leaf open each of the nine books within the work. The volume was bound in gold-tooled red morocco leather in the middle of the 19th century.

Design Statement for the Royal Palace of Caserta to their Holy Royal Majesties Carlo, King of the Two Sicilies and of Jerusalem. Infante of Spain, Duke of Parma and of Piacenza, Great Hereditary Prince of Tuscany and of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony

Luigi Vanvitelli (1700–73) was an Italian architect and engineer, the son of Flemish-born painter Caspar van Wittel. Vanvitelli trained in Rome under the architect Niccolo Salvi, and designed churches and other structures in Rome, and in Ancona, in east-central Italy. He received a commission in 1751 to build a new royal palace at Caserta, just north of Naples for Charles VII, the Bourbon king of Naples and Sicily. Construction of this magnificent building began in 1752. It was one of the largest buildings erected in Europe in the 18th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dichiarazione dei disegni del Reale Palazzo di Caserta (Design statement for the Royal Palace of Caserta) contains Vanvitelli’s designs for the palace, engraved by Carlo Nolli, Nicola Orazi, and Rocco Pozzi. The engravings are all signed by Vanvitelli. The vignette of Vanvitelli on the frontispiece is by Pozzi; the two headings are by Filippo Morghen and Pozzi. The paper used to produce the book was furnished by Giuseppe Vettori di Camerino, paper manufacturer in Pioraco, near Ancona.

Nautical Chart of the Mediterranean Basin

This portolan nautical chart, of Catalan origin, illustrates the coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea with a wealth of detail, with toponyms of the inhabited areas shown without regard to political-territorial divisions. Nautical charts came into use on sailing vessels in the Mediterranean toward the end of the 13th century, coinciding with much broader seafaring activity and exploration. These charts supplemented the written instructions, or portolanos, which had been used for several centuries and thus were called portolan charts. The main centers of production for these charts were Spain and northern Italy. The Carta nautica del bacino del Mediterraneo (Nautical chart of the Mediterranean basin), the only one of its type from the archives and libraries of Sardinia, is a testimony to the cultural and business relations that existed between Sardinia and Catalonia in the 16th century. Originally traced on a single sheet of paper, the map was divided into four parts and used in the binding of two volumes. The fourth part of the document has not survived. The chart is attributed to the workshop of Mateus Prunes (1532–94), a leading member of a family of cartographers who lived and worked on the island of Majorca from the early 16th century to the late 17th century.

Works of Galileo Galilei, Part 2, Volume 13, Floats: Fragments and First Drafts Related to the Treatise "Of Things that Float on Water"

This fragmentary work elaborates on earlier studies undertaken by the Italian scientist, philosopher, and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) on the Greek mathematician and physicist Archimedes of Syracuse (circa 287 BCE–circa 212 BCE). This study contains notes about the theories of buoyancy and floatation, which Galileo later gathered in a more coherent form in his treatise Discorso… intorno alle cose che stanno in sù l’acqua (Discourse on floating bodies), published in Florence in 1612. As with his more prominent work of astronomy, Sidereus Nuncius (Starry messenger), Galileo’s work aroused controversy for its views on scientific causality and its relationship to the Aristotelian method. Two scholars from Pisa, Arturo Pannocchieschi d'Elci and Giorgio Coresio, published treatises later in 1612 criticizing Galileo’s work.

Works of Galileo Galilei, Part 3, Volume 15, Astronomy: The Assayer

Il saggiatore (The assayer) by Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) is the final and most significant work in the polemic regarding the characteristics of comets involving the Italian scientist and mathematician in the years 1618–23. Three comets appeared in the skies over Europe in 1618, giving rise to a debate about the nature of these celestial bodies. In 1619 Jesuit priest Orazio Grassi published a pseudonymous treatise on the comets. Grassi’s interpretation was then criticized in Discorso delle comete (Discourse on comets), a work published by Mario Guiducci but attributed to Galileo. Il saggiatore is addressed to Virginio Cesarini, a young man who had heard Galileo lecture in Rome. Taking Grassi’s polemic on the nature of celestial bodies as a point of departure, Galileo set forth a general scientific approach to the investigation of celestial phenomena, thereby making an indirect defense of the Copernican, heliocentric, theory against the Ptolemaic, geocentric, system. Galileo argued that the book of nature was written in mathematical terms and so could only be deciphered by those who knew mathematics. Il saggiatore was published in Rome in 1623 under the auspices of the Lincean Academy, and dedicated to Pope Urban VIII. The Roman edition was entrusted to Tommaso Stigliani, who did a poor job resulting in numerous typographical errors. All of the copies of the first edition of Il saggiatore thus bear corrections needed to give the text of Galileo’s original meaning. This copy shows marginal notes in Galileo’s own hand.

Philosophical Exercises by Antonio Rocco

In Esercitazioni filosofiche (Philosophical exercises), published in 1633 and dedicated to Pope Urban VIII, the Italian priest and philosophy teacher Antonio Rocco (1586–1653), presented various Aristotelian theories intended to challenge the new scientific method of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). A self-declared adherent of the Peripatetic school of philosophy, Rocco denounced the evidence-based science pioneered by Galileo and argued for adherence to the Aristotelian approach of deriving scientific truths from general principles. Rocco’s book was a direct assault on Galileo’s Dialogo sopra i massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems), published in 1632. Galileo had already been denounced by the Inquisition for teaching the Copernican view of the solar system, which placed the sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe, and he prudently chose not to compromise himself by publishing new material to rebut Rocco. Instead, he wrote a heated defense of his arguments directly on this copy, using numerous marginal notes and annotations on papers added to the printed volume.