A Private 17th c. Museum annexed to Aldrovandi’s Studio, Illustrated with Numerous Woodcuts of Specimens and a folding engraved Frontispiece of the Museum’s Interior. With the FIRST PUBLISHED DESCRIPTION of the Pre-Columbian "Codex Cospi"

Legati, Lorenzo (d. 1675); Cospi, Ferdinando (1606-1683)

Mvseo Cospiano Annesso A Qvello Del Famoso Vlisse Aldrovandi E donato alla sua Patria dall' Illustrissimo Signor Ferdinando Cospi Patrizio Di Bologna E Senatore Cavaliere Commendatore di S. Stefano, Balì d’Arezzo, e March. Di Petriolo, fra Gli Accademici Gelati Il Fedele, e principe al presente de' medesimi. Descrizione Di Lorenzo Legati Cremonese Dottor Filosofo, Medico, e Pubblico Professore delle Lettere Greche in Bologna, Accademica Apatista, e Ansioso. Al Serenissimo Ferdinando III Principe di Toscana

Bologna: Per Giacomo Monti, 1677


Folio: 32 x 20.8 cm. [24], 532 pp. Collation: †6, ††6, A-Z6, Aa-Vv6, Xx-Yy4. With an added, double-paged plate of the museum


An exceptional, very clean copy, printed on heavy paper, bound in contemporary speckled calfskin over boards (small defects), spine richly tooled in gold. An excellent copy, complete with the folding woodcut view of the museum. The text is illustrated with numerous woodcuts of specimens (see below for a descriptive list.) A small woodcut portrait of the dedicatee appears in the dedication. The title is printed in red and black. The text is in fine condition with very minor cosmetic faults as follows: scattered light tonining or minor maginal foxing, two small wormtracks (easily overlooked) in the first few signatures, a third in the blank lower margin of sigs E and F, one small marginal tear (no loss). A very fine copy, printed on much heavier paper than standard copies.

The sole edition of the only illustrated catalogue of the museum of Ferdinando Cospi, annexed in 1657 to the Studio Aldrovandi, the museum and botanical garden of Ulisse Aldrovandi in Bologna. The Cospi museum occupied a large apartment with two annexes in the Palazzo Pubblico, adjacent to the Aldrovandi museum. The detailed catalogue and its illustrations - in particular, the folding frontispiece image of the museum’s interior- serve as an invaluable record of the contents and configuration of the museum prior to the redistribution of both Aldrovandi’s and Cospi’s collections in 1742.

Cospi was educated at the Medici court in Florence and served as the family’s agent in Tuscany and Emilia. Many of the objects in the collection were gifts from the Medici dukes or were acquired by Cospi while traveling on Medici business. The catalogue, written by the Cremonese physician and professor of Greek Lorenzo Legati, is dedicated to the 14-year-old Medici prince Ferdinando, whose portrait appears at the head of the dedication.

The frontispiece, which shows Cospi and his dwarf curator Sebastiano Biavati (who was himself intended as a living “exhibit” in the museum) amidst the collection, is of special value to us because it demonstrates, as Laura Laurencich-Minelli has observed, “that the museum was not arranged according to the method in Legati’s catalogue; furthermore, it shows a display organization which is actually contrary to Legati’s subdivisions, most obviously in the admixture of naturalia and artificialia.”(See “Museography and Ethnographical Collections in Bologna”, in Impey and MacGregor, “Origins of Museums”, p. 23)

Cospi’s collection includes extraordinary objects from all over the world, including Africa, Asia, and a number of American specimens (a bird of paradise, a turkey, South American fruit, etc.) and ethnographic artifacts, the most important of which is the well-known Codex Cospi, a pre-Columbian pictorial codex of Aztec manufacture and one of only 16 Mesoamerican books to survive the Spanish conquest. For a full discussion, see Laura Laurencich Minelli, “A Note on the Mesoamerican Codex Cospi” (full citation in notes below.)

The illustrations include: a cat with two bodies, a bird of paradise, a turkey, a scorpion, a murex shell, exotic fruits, “monstrous” plants, a fragment of an Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription on basalt, mineral specimens, fossils, illustrations from the pre-Columbian Codex Cospi, a four-pronged pugnale, a cross-bow and other weapons, including spoils taken from the Turks in 1647, an ivory carving from Greenland, a detail from the chess board “used by Dante Alighieri”, an Etruscan cinerary urn and a full-paged image of an Etruscan bronze mirror, ancient oil lamps, a grotesque Hellenistic bronze figure, Egyptian ushabtis, Egyptian animal sculptures, two Aztec knife-handles in the shape of human figures (one with an animal head) covered with turquoise, Greek and Etruscan bronzes.

The Work is divided into five books: Book 1. Human specimens, including mummified remains, “monsters”(including portraits of the dwarves Sebastiano Biavati –also the museum’s custodian- and his sister), and deformities (a skeleton of a still-born infant with two hearts and two sets of lungs); animal specimens (including birds and insects), with “monsters” of indeterminate origin and deformities, as well as eggs of various types. Book 2. Fish, sea mammals (including whales –represented by a large vertebra and a dorsal fin- and dolphins), reptiles, amphibians, plants, crustacea, stones, fossils, “petrified” (mummified) animal remains, and magnets. Book 3. Ethnographic materials: books, scrolls, maps and exotic writing (including a Chinese book given to the Jesuit Procurator General of the Indies and the Codex Cospi, a pre-Columbian Aztec pictorial manuscript); mathematical, astronomical and geometrical instruments; musical instruments, arms, vases and other vessels of iron, clay, and glass, objects made from ivory and wood, ancient tombs (including Etruscan funerary artifacts), Greek and Roman oil lamps. Book 4. Ancient coins and medals of the Greeks and Romans, modern medals and coins of the popes, emperors, etc. Book 5. Images of the gods of the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians.

“In 1657, the museum of the Marchese Ferdinando Cospi was annexed to the Studio Aldrovandi. A senate decree of 1600 permanently allotted one room for the gonfaloniere’s collection, and it was formally donated to the Senate in 1667. No doubt the proximity of the Studio to Cospi’s chambers as the elected head of government –according to contemporary descriptions, it was located ‘at the door next to those of the gonfaloniere to which one ascends by the stairs that go to the great tower’- influenced the nobleman’s decision to donate his collection to the city. Situated in the symbolic center of the city, it provided a way of linking private interests with public duties. Moreover, the association with Aldrovandi’s museum lent Cospi’s collection philosophical credibility by associating it with the Bolognese Aristotle…. The donation of Cospi’s collection precipitated a general reorganization of the museum. For a brief time, there were even two custodians: the professor of natural history assigned to the Studio Aldrovandi and Cospi’s beloved dwarf Sebastiano Biavati who was awarded the post of Custode del Museo.”(Paul Findlen, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy)

The Cospi museum… came into being as ‘a youthful pastime’; thus its initial formation can be seen as analogous to that of the guardaroba and collections of the high Italian nobility, notably those of the Medici. Later, however, when Cospi decided to give his museum ‘per servitio publico’, placing it alongside that of Aldrovandi, and when he chose for the preparation of the catalogue the learned doctor Lorenzo Legati, he clearly wanted to invest his museum with a scientific character in the Aldrovandian mould.

A Pre-Columbian Codex in Italy

The Codex Cospi, also named the ‘Bologna Codex’, is a Pre-Columbian Mexican codex. Only sixteen pre-Hispanic books, and one cartographic plan, escaped the Spanish conquest and have reached us to report on Mesoamerican culture. They are mostly of the ritual-calendric or the historical-genealogic type (the Codex Cospi is of the first type.) These sixteen books are either written in pictographic-rebus writing or, in the case of the four Mayan books, in hieroglyphic writing (logograms, phonetic and key signs).

“The Codex Cospi’s presence in European dates as far back as 26 December 1665, when it was given to Marquis Ferdinando Cospi by Count Valerio Zani, who belonged to the same literary academy as Cospi and was a generous donor to Bologna's museums. Besides the Codex, Zani gave a series of remarkable medals to Cospi for his museum and, to the Aldrovandi museum (to which Cospi’s collection would later be annexed), the extraordinary Aztec spearthrower (Legati 1677, p. 192) now in the Museo Etnografico Pigorini in Rome.

“Zani thought the codex was Chinese, since the original presentation inscription on the cover reads ‘Libro della China’ (subsequently corrected to ‘del Messico’.) The Codex was on display in the famous ‘Museo Cospiano’ which had been transferred to the Town Hall (Palazzo Pubblico). The ‘Museo’ had been placed there in preparation for its formal donation to the city of Bologna in 1672.

“Cospi asked Lorenzo Legati, professor of Greek at the University of Bologna, to write a catalogue for his museum (printed in 1677), which gives detailed information about the Codex. In a shorter, unillustrated catalogue from 1667, the Codex is listed as book from India, (i.e. the Indies), while in the 1677 catalogue Legati recognized the Codex as an ancient Mexican book. Furthermore, Legati (1677, pp. 191-192) gave the first accurate description of the Codex and supplied its measurements. He did not realize that the codex was made of deerskin: he thought the underlying material onto which the illustrations were painted was a sort of cardboard. However he did affirm correctly that the surface was covered with a chalky paint.

“Lorenzo Legati was also the first to recognize that the Codex was composed in Mexican ‘hieroglyphics’. He attempted to compare it with other Mexican ‘hieroglyphs’ published by Ole Worm in the catalogue of his own museum, the ‘Museum Vormianum seu Historia Rerum Rariorum’ (Amsterdam 1655, pp. 383-384). Legati expressed the hope that somebody would unveil these literary mysteries (1677, p. 192).”( Laura Laurencich Minelli, “A note on the Mesoamerican Codex Cospi”, in Journal de la Société des Américanistes, Tome 85, 1999. pp. 375-386)

Cicognara 3403; Nissen, ZBI 2421; Graesse IV, 144; Balsiger, Kunst und Wunderkammern, 1970: 303-9; Cabinets de Curiosités: no. 97; Schlosser, Kunst- und Wunderkammern, 1908: 103-4; Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 40 & 165; Wunderkammer to Museum: no. 25. (Cospi). Cobres I p. 10 n. 4; Murray I p. 89; Nissen ZBI 2421. On the Codex Cospi, see Laura Laurencich Minelli, “A Note on the Mesoamerican Codex Cospi” in Journal de la Société des Américanistes, 1999, Vol 85, issue 85, pp. 375-386