Rare Book & Manuscript Library Exhibitions

Bibiliotheca Schoenbergensis
An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg

Books of Nature

Trattato di varie cose attenenti a guerra, mosini, ague, pesi, mechaniche fortezze, et altro
Italy, 1687

Treatises on military machinery were extremely important in the early modern era when science and technology were transforming the art of war into the science of war. The ability to assault and seize fortified places was particularly important during a period in which the seige of the city and the protection of the city were at the center of military strategy. This heavily illustrated manuscript from the seventeenth century focuses on the variety of machines and machinery necessary to offensive and defensive success in war. Written in a careful, uniform hand, the manuscript has doubtless been copied from something else, most likely a printed book. The illustrations similarly suggest working from a model at hand. Indeed, it is likely that, like so many extant manuscripts from the seventeenth century, this codex has been derived from a printed book for circulation among an audience that may not have had access to multiple copies of the book. The illustrations resemble--grosso modo--those found in earlier machinery books by Ramelli, Zonca, and others. But the origins of the volume have yet to be determined.

Paper, 81 leaves, 311 x 225 (305 x 215) mm, in Italian, written in a cursive, contemporary hand.

Liber de natura rerum
Thomas de Chantimpre, Northern France or Flanders, ca. 1250-1270

Thomas (ca. 1201-ca. 1270), an Augustinian canon at Chantimpre in Flanders, later lived as a Dominican in LiParis, where Aristotle's writings were part of the university canon. The aptly titled "On the Nature of Things" served as a general introduction to the sciences for those to whom Aristotle was not accessible and influenced scientific writing for generations. This incomplete copy includes chapters on fish, insects and invertebrates, trees, cosmology and astronomy, herbs, springs, gems, winds and clouds, the elements, and the stars and eclipses. On the page shown here, Thomas describes and catalogues the appearance and habits of the locust and the centipede, among others.

Paper, 81 leaves, 311 x 225 (305 x 215) mm, in Italian, written in a cursive, contemporary hand.

Medical miscelleny
Paris, mid-thirteenth century

The seven texts in this manuscript were all required reading for medical students in Paris in the thirteenth century. Six of the treatises are translations from the Arabic and date from before the year 950: Johannitus, who wrote the Introduction ad artem parvam Galeni, lived in Baghdad in the ninth century; Philaretus wrote his study of the pulse in the first half of the seventh century; Isaac Judaeus was a Jewish physician who lived in Quairawan in the early tenth century. Three, probably four, of the texts in the manuscript can be attributed to Isaac: De dietis universalibus, De dietis particulares, the Liber urinarum, and the Liber elementorum. The Arabic texts were translated by Constatinus Africanus, a monk of Montecassino who died in 1087. The most recent treatise is Giles of Corbeil's study of the pulse, probably written at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

The manuscript includes fascinating illustrations of doctors at work (frequently dressed in Dominican habit). Within an historiated initial "Q" in the Liber urinarum, the illustration shown here depicts a doctor examing a urine flask and pointing to the patient seated before him. A guide sketch for the artist is visible below the text.

Parchment, 149 folios, 290 x 193 (190 x 125) mm, 2 columns (58 mm each), 44-46 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic script.

Metaphysicae, Ethicae, Economicae
Aristotle, Italy, late-thirteenth century

This compilation of three Aristotelian texts includes Latin translations by William of Moerbeke (ca. 1215-ca. 1286), one of the most productive and influential translators of Greek into Latin of his day. The manuscript is representative of the revival and popularity of Aristotle during this period, when his texts were the staples of a university education. Latin translations made Aristotle accessible to a general educated audience, who were much more likely to read Latin than the original Greek. The exhibited page shows the end of the Ethics on the left and the beginning of the Economics on the right.

Parchment, 77 folios, 307 x 218 (183 x 125) mm, 2 columns, 35 to 40 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic script.

Algorismus and Tractatus de sphaera
Sacrobosco, Italy, fourteenth century

In addition to a study of the fundamentals of arithmetic, this manuscript of work by the astronomer Sacrobosco (d. 1256) is accompanied by the text for which he is best known, his treatise on the heavenly spheres. On the right-hand page here exhibited, the nine spheres are illustrated and described in order: the moving heavens, the stationary heavens, Saturn, Jove (Jupiter), Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. In this celestial scheme, the Earth is at the center of the universe. A note on the left-hand page (between the two paragraphs) records that the manuscript was used by a Franciscan monk named Peter of the Order of St. John in 1399.

Parchment, 81 folios, 180 x 134 (125 x 80) mm, 1 column, 25 lines, in Latin, written in early Gothic script.

A treatise on practical arithmetic
Pietro Paulo Muscarello, Nola, Italy, 1478

Trade and commerce were powerful engines of literacy and education in Renaissance Italy. It was important that merchants and bankers be able to read, write, and calculate in the interests of business. By the fifteenth century, success, particularly in international trade, was directly related to the acquisition of verbal and numerical literacy skills. Business was not for the ignorant. Muscarello's handsomely illustrated treatise was written as textbook for young men who needed to learn elementary mathematics and geometry as part of their preparation for the world. It includes sets of practical problems for students to solve, each of which comes suggestively illustrated. The illustrations, in turn, are marvelous windows through which to view daily life in late fifteenth-century Italy.

This manuscript was quite probably written by the author himself--or at least that is what the evidence of the colophon here and in another, related manuscript points to. If this conjecture is true it would make this manuscript all the more important, as one of the relatively few examples of the author as scribe in the Renaissance.

Parchment, 113 leaves, 219 x 160 (212 x 155) mm, in Italian, written in a partially cursive bookhand.

Portolan Atlas
Battista Agnese, Venice, ca. 1535-1538

Portolan atlases were sea charts that used a network of "thumb" lines centered on a compass rose to represent distances between points--literally, "port to port." The earliest extant portolans date from around 1300, but it is likely that they incorporate much older traditions, possibly stretching back as far as classical antiquity. Portolans were originally utilitarian documents of great value to sailors. They facilitated the navigation and exploration of the Mediterranean and, by the fifteenth century, of the wider world as well. Between 1300 and 1600 thousands of these atlases were produced, chiefly in Spain and in Italy. However, by the sixteenth century portolans became collectors' items. Artful cartographers sought to take advantage of this new market by producing luxury atlases like the one on display for the wealthy. Battista Agnese, who was active between 1527 and 1564, was one of the most accomplished and successful maker of luxury portolans. More than seventy of his atlases survive, of which this is a particularly early example.

The distinguished provenance of the atlas reflects the value of the genre in the sixteenth century. It was presented to the eminent scholar Paolo Giovio in 1541 by Tommaso Compeggio, Bishop of Feltre and papal diplomat.

Parchment, 7 double-page maps, 398 x 285 mm.

Extratto da un libro de razza da cavalli
Ferrante I of Aragon (d. 1494), Italy, 1541

Ferrante of Aragon was well known for his love of horses, and for his knowledge of the science of raising and breeding them. His library contained many volumes on the subject, several of which may have inspired the unidentified work, ascribed to him, from which this text is extracted. The manuscript contains brief sections covering nearly every aspect of the care, training, and breeding of horses, from trimming their hair to knowing when a mare is pregnant.

Parchment, 49 folios, 228 x 155 (157 x 109) mm, 1 column, 19 lines, in Italian, written in a calligraphic italic script.