Cardano’s Second Great Encyclopedia of Science & Nature

Cardano, Girolamo (1501-1576)

De rerum varietate libri XVII.

Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1557


Thick octavo: 17 x 11 cm. [32] (the last two blank), 1194 (i.e. 1204), [64] pp. Collation: a-b8 (b8 blank), A-Z8, a-z8, aA-zZ8, AA-KK8. With an added foldout woodcut illustration of an astrolabe (p. 769), a separate sheet with volvelles loosely inserted, and a folding table (p. 791.)


Bound in contemporary alum-tawed pigskin over wooden board, lacking clasps, blind-ruled in compartments and tooled with stamps of the Evangelists and acanthus rolls alternating with medallion portraits of Luther, Jan Hus, Erasmus, and others. The text itself is in excellent condition; bright and crisp. With a portrait of Cardano on the verso of the title, numerous small woodcuts in the text, and the folding table and astrolabe mentioned above. The sheet with the volvelles for the astrolabe is intact. Provenance: Georg Agricola, Bishop of Seckau from 1572 to 1584, inscription on f.f.e.p. A second 16th c. inscription with the name Balthasaar Braun appears on the title, along with a monastic inscription from the library of the monastery at Windberg.

The “De rerum varietate” is Cardano’s second important encyclopedia of science, mechanics, and metaphysics; it covers all aspects of the natural world, “from cosmology to the construction of machines; from the usefulness of natural sciences to the evil influence of demons; from the laws of mechanics to cryptology. It is a mine of facts, both real and imaginary; of notes on the state of the sciences; of superstition, technology, alchemy, and various branches of the occult. The similarities between the scientific opinions expressed by Cardano in these two works and those of Leonardo da Vinci, at that time unpublished, have led some historians... to suppose that Cardano has used Leonardo's manuscript notes; others insist that the similarity is entirely coincidental. Be that as it may, Cardano must always be credited with having introduced new ideas that inspired new investigations.' (DSB III, 66)

“The work forms a sequel to De Subtilitate, and, together with it, contains the author's notions on physics and metaphysics. Of special chemical interest is Book X (p. 375-410), comprising one chapter on fire... a chapter on distillation with woodcuts of apparatus, and a chapter on chemistry. It finishes by a chapter on glass.”(Duveen). The book also includes chapters on glass, metals, mineralogy, botany, zoology, experiments of various kinds, astronomy, astrology, etc.

VD 16, C 920; IA 132.071; Duveen 117; Thorndike V, 563 ff.; Cf. Ferguson I, 141; Sinkankas 1145