The Catalogue of Imperato’s Wunderkammer

Imperato, Ferrante (ca. 1550- ca. 1625)

Historia Naturale di Ferrante Imperato Napolitano: nella quale ordinatamente si tratta Della diversa condition di Minere, Pietre pretiose, & altre curiosità: Con varie Historie di Piante, & Animali, sin'hora non date in luce. In questa Seconda Impressione aggiontovi da Gio. Maria Ferro Spetiale alla Sanità, alcune Annotationi alle Piante nel Libro vigesimo ottavo. Dedicata all’Altezza Ser.[enissi]ma Di Giovan Federico Duca di Brunswick, et Lunenburg.

Venice: Presso Combi, & La Noù. 1672


Folio: 32.5 x 22.5 cm. [8], 696, [8] pp. Collation: *4, A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Mmm6, a4. With an added folding plate.

SECOND EDITION (1st 1599).

The text is illustrated with 127 woodcuts of gems and minerals, plants, animals, and a folding, double-paged scene of the museum’s interior. Mortimer (Harvard Italian 240) notes that Manzi (Stigliola, p. xiv) suggests Mario Cartaro as the artist of these blocks. Bound in contemporary calf, somewhat worn. The second part of the text lightly browned.

Ferrante Imperato was, like his contemporary from Verona Francesco Calzolari, an apothecary whose collection of natural history collection and library “constituted a practical work of reference for physicians, pharmacists and botanists”. Among his visitors and correspondents were some of the most important scientists of the day, including Peiresc, Clusius, Aldrovandi, and Bauhin. The folding engraving of the museum interior shows Imperato and his son Francesco leading visitors through the museum, the cabinets of which are packed tight with specimens and books and are surmounted by stuffed birds. Suspended from the ceiling is a dazzling array of shells, fish, crustacea, the blade of a sawfish, a walrus pup, a two-tailed lizard, and –dominating it all- an immense crocodile.

“Second, enlarged edition of this catalogue of the famous natural history museum formed by a Neapolitan apothecary, Ferrante Imperato (1550-1625) and his son Francesco, who edited this catalogue and later drew on the resources of the museum for his own ‘De Fossilibus Opusculum’ (Naples, 1610). The museum was visited by Peiresc in 1601 and greatly admired for its natural curiosities and rarities. It was one of the earliest such collections in Italy and the catalogue was the first museum catalogue to contain plants and animals. (Eales, Cole Library of Early Medicine and Zoology, 1969, p. 53)

“In his preface Imperato claims that the catalogue was made in collaboration with Niccolo Antonio Stigiola. In this edition some additional material was provided by Giovanni Maria Ferro with new illustrations in the final chapter. The illustrations closely follow the originals and the famous folding woodcut of the interior is here replaced by an engraving.

“The catalogue is divided into 28 books with substantial sections on mining (5 books) and alchemy (9 books), the remainder being devoted to animal and vegetable specimens. Ferrante Imperato took a scientific interest in his collection and was one of the first people to recognize the mysterious ‘bronteae’ and ‘ombriae’ as meteoric stones and proved that ‘Jew stones’, a popular Wunderkammer specimen, were in fact petrified points of an echinus. In Ferro’s addenda to the catalogue is an interesting description and illustration of red and black Indian ink in a Chinese ink bottle and decorated case.”(Grinke, From Wunderkammer to Museum, No. 22) “Imperato was convinced that fossils were the remains of sea animals buried in sediment, which were later turned to stone by "lapidifying juices." He described the action of the seas in the deposition of sedimentary rocks and was the first to mention the concept of a stratigraphic sequence.” (Wilson)

Hoover 440, Schuh 2384; Sinkankas 3109; Ward & Carozzi 1172