The Most Influential 17th c. Text on Monsters and Deformities

Liceti, Fortunio (1577-1657)

De Monstrorum Natura, Caussis, et differentiis Libri duo. Aeneis iconibus ornate et aucti.

Padua: Apud Paulum Frambottum, 1634


Quarto: 20.5 x 15.2 cm. [16], 262, [26] pp. π4, †4, A-Z4, Aa-Nn4

FIRST ILLUSTRATED EDITION, augmented with new case studies.

A fine copy in early-19thc. quarter calf and speckled boards, spine ruled in golf, with minor wear. The text is crisp, with only two small blemishes and a few very tiny (barely noticeable) pinprick wormholes. The impressions of the plates are rich and sharp. The engraving on leaf Aa3v is printed upside down. A tall copy, without the usual trimming to the engraved title.

This the first illustrated edition of this classic of teratology. The book is introduced by a fantastic engraved title page populated by monsters. The text is illustrated with 52 half and quarter-page engravings of monsters –deformed humans and animals, as well as fantastic, monstrous hybrids of the both. Although another illustrated edition followed, this is the only edition with these engravings.

“One of the earliest classifications of deformities, Liceti’s work was still under review in works on malformation in the 19th century. The work includes both real and imaginary cases and accurate descriptions of cases observed in the years following the first edition.” (Garrison-Morton) “The composite beasts and monsters described in the text draw from a long tradition of written accounts of monsters and prodigies.”(The Age of the Marvelous, no. 107) For this new edition, Liceti included a number of case studies made subsequent to the publication of the 1616 first edition. “The Paduan physician Liceti contested the common opinion that identified monsters with errors or failures in the course of nature. Liceti likened nature to an artist who, faced with some imperfection in the materials to be shaped, ingeniously creates another form still more admirable. On this view, monsters revealed nature not as frustrated in her aims, but as rising to the challenge of recalcitrant matter, a constricted womb, or even a mixture of animal and human seed. ‘It is in this that I see the convergence of both Nature and Art’, wrote Liceti, ‘because one or the other not being able to make what they want, they at least make what they can.’ “By the early decades of the seventeenth century, professors like Aldrovandi and physicians like Liceti who inquired into the wonders of nature were joined by erudite Jesuits like Athanasius Kircher, gentleman virtuosi like John Evelyn, and members of academies such as the Accademia degli Lincei in Rome or the Academia Naturae Curiosorum, founded in Schweinfurt in 1652. Not all marvel-mongers in the seventeenth century concerned themselves with natural philosophy; nor did all natural philosophers and natural historians attend to marvels. But there was an unprecedented (and never-to-be-repeated) overlap between the two groups. This was in part because marvels, described in words and displayed as things, saturated early modern European culture, thrusting themselves into the consciousness of nearly everyone, from prince to pauper to philosopher.” (Daston & Park, “Wonders and The Order of Nature”)

Krivatsky 6958; Wellcome 3786; Garrison and Morton 534.52 (the 1616 ed.); Caillet II. 498