‘Rara Herbaria’ exhibition: books and nature from the 15th to the 17th century, from the incunabula to the botanical volumes of the first Accademia dei Lincei in Rome

The ‘Rara Herbaria’ exhibition: books and nature from the 15th to the 17th century from the incunabula of the Peter Goop Collection to the botanical volumes of the first Accademia dei Lincei – from 4 May to 3 July 2023 at the Library of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome, Italy and curated by Michael Jakob (professor at the Grenoble Alpes University, HEAD in Geneva and the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture) and Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi (art historian and academic of the Lincei), intends to focus on the affirmation of a new botanical knowledge which, in the early modern age and at the dawn of the “new science”, was freeing itself from the medical-pharmacological purposes that had characterized it in the Middle Ages.
The exhibition consists of two interconnected parts, in which numerous volumes from the Peter Goop Collection in Vaduz, Liechtenstein will be presented together with manuscripts, printed books and documents conserved in the Library of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei and Corsiniana dei Lincei in Rome.

Over the last few decades, Peter Goop has assembled an extraordinary collection of botany volumes that constitutes the world’s most important collection on the subject in private hands. One of the strong points of the collection is represented by a considerable group of incunabula – Kräuterbücher, printed herbaria – published between 1470 and 1500, which can be admired in the first section of the exhibition.
The splendid fifteenth-century editions of Plinian Historia naturale with the commentary of Cristoforo Landino, of De Re Rustica of Cato, Varro, Columella and Palladio, of De Virtutibus Herbarum, previously attributed to Macer Floridus but the work of Odo de Meung (Geneva 1495), will be juxtaposed to the canonical text on agriculture by Pietro De’ Crescenzi of which the Louvain editions of 1483 and the Vicenza editions of 1490 by Bartolomaeus Anglicus (Strasbourg 1485) and the Buch der Natur by Konrad von Megenberg (Augusta 1495) are exhibited. There will also be specimens of the first “encyclopaedias” that describe numerous aspects of the world of nature, such as the Liber de Proprietatibus Rerum by Bartolomaeus Anglicus (Strasbourg 1485) and the Buch der Natur by Konrad von Megenberg (Augusta 1495).

Of the triad of the so-called “herbariums of Mainz” it will be possible to admire the editio princeps of each one, while a fundamental stage of the exhibition itinerary will be represented by the sixteenth-century treatises illustrated by “fathers of botany” such as Brunfels, Fuchs, Bock and Mattioli.
In the exhibition, two works from the Peter Goop Collection assume particular prominence: the Liber de arte distillandi, de simplicibus. Das buch der rechten kunst zu distilieren by Hieronymus Brunschwyg (1500), which bears the stamp “Cesi-Albani”, which perhaps belonged to the Lyncean Cassiano dal Pozzo, and the imposing Hortus Eystettensis by Basilius Besler (1613), a work much appreciated by academics lincei. These two volumes are entrusted with the task of marking the transition to the second part of the exhibition itinerary, in which it will be possible to approach rare relics conserved in the collections of the Library of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana.

In fact, 1613 constitutes the pivotal date between the two parts of the exhibition and due prominence will be given to that crucial year. In fact, a small volume Mexicanarum Plantarum Imagines of tables of Mesoamerican plants is proposed, printed as a “lyncean” gift to the bishop of Bamberg visiting Rome. Included in the copy of the Peter Goop Collection of the Hortus Eystettensis is a “flyer” depicting the rare Passiflora flowering in the Farnese gardens. Also exhibited is the specimen of the Mexican Treasure (Rerum medicarum […]) with autographed annotations by Federico Cesi, founder of the Academy, which constitutes a precious testimony on the genesis and on the difficult gestation of a key text for botanical studies and more general naturalistic lincei.
Of great visual impact is the sheet of Melissographia engraved by Matthias Greuter (1625), which presents the first images of the bee seen under the microscope, and the Treaty on fossil wood by Francesco Stelluti, which investigates geomorphological problems hitherto completely unknown. The exhibition is completed by some rare volumes conserved in the Library of the Botanical Garden of Bologna, coming from the ancient book collection of Federico Cesi (largely dispersed), as evidenced by the annotations, stamps and notes of ownership still visible. Two botanical plates will also be exhibited depicting two varieties of Cynara cardunculus, from the Dal Pozzo collection and the portrait of Federico Cesi painted from life between 1610 and 1613.

The scientific committee of the exhibition is made up of Roberto Antonelli, Ebe Antetomaso, Anna Dolfi, Peter Goop, Marco Guardo, Michael Jakob, Annibale Mottana, Silvia Pedone, Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi; the organizing committee of Ebe Antetomaso, Angelo Cagnazzo, Francesco Paolo Fazio, Giovanni Fraioli, Marco Guardo, Michael Jakob, Silvia Pedone.

The exhibition includes a full-bodied catalog printed by Silvana editoriale, consisting of historical-critical introductory essays and fact sheets of the objects on display.

‘Rara Herbaria’ book cover credit Silvana editoriale

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