Aldrovandi’s Natural History of Monsters. The First Treatise on Teratology. Bound in Contemporary Pigskin With Clasps

Aldrovandi, Ulisse (1522-1605); Ambrosini, Bartolomeo (1588-1657)

Monstrorum historia cum Paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium.

Bologna: Typis Nicolai Tebaldini, 1642


Large Folio: 35 x 24.5 cm. Two volumes in one: I. †4 (including engraved t.p.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Ppp6, Qqq8, Rrr6, Sss8; II. A-O6 (final signature O has 5 leaves, as in all copies examined. See note at end of description.)

FIRST EDITION of both parts.

A fantastic copy bound in a beautiful -and beautifully preserved- binding of pigskin over wooden boards with working clasps. Printed on thick paper, the leaves broad and bright, with some minor instances of light marginal damp-staining or light toning, as often. Profusely illustrated with 477 woodcuts, many full page, of “monsters” and deformities both human and animal. With an engraved title page by G.B. Coriolano.

Aldrovandi’s “Monstrorum historia” was the first treatise on teratology, the study of deformities and monsters. The subjects are drawn from across the spectrum of living creatures: animal (humans, other mammals, fishes, insects) and botanical. Aldrovandi also considers celestial monstra, including such portents as comets. There are also descriptions and images of Native Americans “from the island of Florida” and West Indian “cannibals”, as well as the mythical blemmyae or “headless men”, rumored to live in Africa, the West Indies, and other remote parts of the world. The work is also important for including the fruits of Aldrovandi’s researches into embryology (and those sections are illustrated with images of fetuses in utero and of the female reproductive organs.) Some of the specimens described and depicted in the book were in Aldrovandi’s own natural history collection, which grew to include some 18,000 specimens, and in the botanical gardens at the University of Bologna (Aldrovandi’s single greatest contribution to the study of the natural sciences.) “Aldrovandi’s museum was ‘a collection of plants, animals, and subterranean things’ that grew to become the most extensive collection of its kind in sixteenth-century Europe. It was in large part a result of having access to such a vast and varied collection that Aldrovandi was able to study aspects of what today would include botany, teratology, embryology, ichthyology, and ornithology. His reputation was such that he came to be referred to by his contemporaries as a ‘second Pliny’ or the ‘Bolognese Aristotle.’" (Daston and Park 1998:154) Aldrovandi conceived of illustrations as an indispensable part of his work: "By the means of these pictures together with the histories, scholars can gain a full knowledge of what [the plants and animals] were according to the ancients. And one cannot imagine anything more useful; if the ancients had drawn and painted all of the things that they described, one would not find so many doubts and endless errors among writers.” (Aldrovandi, ‘Discorso’) A number of the original woodblocks used to print the images in this and Aldrovandi’s other works have been preserved at the University of Bologna. The second volume, “Paralipomena” (Things Omitted), was written by Aldrovandi’s successor at the museum and botanical garden, Bartolomeo Ambrosini.

NISSEN ZBI 74.R. As regards the 5-leaf final signature O in the “Paralipomena”, I have left the quire as “O6” in my collation since it is unclear if there was a cancelland leaf O5, or if final O6 was a blank. Either way, the final quire is consistent with all copies examined.