A Complete Set of Aldrovandi’s Natural History Works – With Noble Provenance and all Volumes in First Edition

Aldrovandi, Ulisse (1522-1605)

The complete 13-volume set of Aldrovandi’s natural history works. Vols I-III. Ornithologia; Vol. IV. De Piscibus; Vol V. Monstrorum Historia; Vol VI. De Quadrupedibus Digitatis Viviparis [et] Oviparis; VII. Quadrupedum omnium bisulcorum historia; VIII. De Quadrupedibus solidipedibus; IX. De Reliquis Animalibus Exanguibus; X. Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae; XI. Dendrologia; XII. De Insectis; XIII. Musaeum Metallicum.

Bologna: Various printers, 1599- 1668


Folio. Each volume 35.3 x 24.5 cm.


Bound in matching 18th c. vellum over boards, with attractive citron morocco labels, tooled in gold, with very minor soiling. A fine set with minor faults (occ. toning or foxing, a few stains, small repairs, and the like.) A detailed description and images of each volume are available upon request. Illustrated with thousands of woodcuts of animals, plants, minerals, and fantastic “monsters”. The accuracy of the images is a result of direct observation of specimens that Aldrovandi collected and housed in his chambers at the University of Bologna. A number of the original woodblocks used for printing the images, and some of the specimens that served as models, are still preserved in the Aldrovandi museum at the University of Bologna.

Provenance: This set is from the library of the Terzi family, a noble family of Bergamo, Lombardy, who trace their origins back to the tenth century. The Terzi library was sold at auction in Paris in the second half of XIX century. The Palazzo Terzi in Bergamo is still owned by the family.

Over the course of the second half of the sixteenth-century, the brilliant Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi’s sought to carry out an encyclopedic description of the natural world. Given the limits of the science of his day and the difficulty of obtaining accurate descriptions and specimens of animals, plants, and minerals from the four corners of the world, it is staggering how close he came to achieving this objective. The collections he amassed and the corpus of writings that he produced “constitute an irreplaceable cultural patrimony that earns him a place among the fathers of modern science. Perhaps most importantly, he was among the first to attempt to free the natural sciences from the stifling influence of the authority of textbooks, for which he substituted, as far as possible, direct study and observation of the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds." (DSB)

In 1603, two years before his death, Ulisse Aldrovandi bequeathed his enormous collection of naturalia and ethnographic objects, along with his library, artwork, and the manuscripts of his mostly unpublished works (together with the woodblocks designed to illustrate them), to the senate of Bologna for installation in the Palazzo Pubblico. Knowing that he would not be able to publish all of his writings during his lifetime, he stipulated that the Bolognese Senate ensure that the project be brought to completion. Begun in 1599 by Aldrovandi himself, the work of editing and publishing his collection would be carried on incrementally by the successive custodians of Aldrovandi’s museum, the “Studio Aldrovandi”, each working within the confines of the museum and library, as per Aldrovandi’s instructions. It was an enormous undertaking; by the time the project ended in 1668, sixty-three years after Aldrovandi’s death, thirteen volumes had been printed and even then a great amount of material remained unpublished.

Aldrovandi was able to complete only four of the volumes during his lifetime, the three-volume ornithology (1599-1603) and the book of insects (1602). Aldrovandi’s second wife, Francesca Fontana, finished editing the volume on marine invertebrates (1605/6). The next two volumes, the fish book (1613) and one from the quadruped series (1616), were edited by Aldrovandi’s Flemish pupil, Giovanni Cornelio Uterwer, custodian of the museum from 1610 to 1619. The eighth volume, on cloven-hoofed quadrupeds (1621), was co-edited by Uterwer and his successor as custodian, the Scotsman Thomas Dempster. Four of the remaining five volumes, “clawed” quadrupeds (1637), serpents (1640), monsters (1642), and the “Musaeum Metallicum”(1648), were edited by the next custodian, Bartolomeo Ambrosini. The final volume, the catalogue of Aldrovandi’s plants (1668), was the work of Ovidio Montalbani and Lorenzo Legati, the latter of whom also wrote the catalogue for the collection of Ferdinando Cospi, which was annexed to the Aldrovandi museum in 1657. For an excellent discussion of the publishers and printers who participated in the project, see Caroline Duroselle-Melish in “International Exchange in the Early Modern Book World”, Ch. 3, p. 31 ff.

“Aldrovandi was aware that the enormity of his task would stretch beyond his lifetime; just as Aristotle had passed his work on to his disciples, Aldrovandi hoped that his own pupils would continue the unfinished business of writing the definitive history of nature. At the end of his life, his literary production -mostly based on the objects of his museum- totaled more than 400 volumes, a number that he claimed would take more than a century to print. ‘And with all this I have kept three scribes in my house, excellent painters, designers, engravers, and have spent much on transportation [of artifacts] and on a library that can stand up to any other particular library in Italy.’ While it is hardly surprising that we should find Aldrovandi's attempts to bring all knowledge under one roof overwhelming, given our own assumption that there is always more to know, the number and size of his many unfinished projects amazed even contemporaries…

“Separate from the thirteen printed volumes, which covered a range of topics -birds, insects, fish, quadrupeds, serpents, monsters, and hard objects, that is, stones, metals, gems, and fossils- the manuscripts included Aldrovandi 's voluminous correspondence, drafts of treatises, tables that classified and tabulated the natural world, and his own encyclopedic compendia that organized all his reading notes alphabetically, topically, and geographically.”(Findlen, Possessing Nature)

“An inventory from 1557 shows the Aldrovandi collection to have contained about 13,000 natural history specimens at that time (Blom 2002). The collection had grown to 18,000 by 1595, including 11,000 specimens of animals, fruits, and vegetables; 7,000 plants dried and pasted into 16 volumes of herbaria; 8,000 tempera illustrations; and 14 cupboards full of woodblock illustrations (Olmi 1985; Simmons and Snider 2012). By 1600, it had surpassed 20,000 specimens. Aldrovandi valued pictorial representations both as a way to compensate for the lack of specimens of some species in his collection and to supplement descriptions in his written texts. Aldrovandi's collection emphasized naturalia but included antiquarian objects and ethnographic objects, as listed in a catalog, Index alphabeticus rerum omnium naturalium in musaeo appensacrum incipiendo a trabe prima, published in 1587 (Laurencich-Minelli 1985:20).”(Simmons, Museums, A History)

“There were thousands of objects in Aldrovandi's collection, each with its own story. Stuffed into drawers and bottles, hung on the walls and the ceiling, they beckoned viewers to single them out, one by one, in contemplating how so many things had arrived all in one place. Yet it was the collective enormity of Aldrovandi's project that most struck his contemporaries. Themselves engaged in various encyclopedic enterprises, they nonetheless acknowledged that Aldrovandi, rivaled only by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, whose similarly ambitious undertaking was cut short by his untimely death in 1565, had used his museum to write a complete history of nature in accordance with ancient philosophical principles.”(Findlen)

Vols. I-III. The Ornithology

Ornithologiae, hoc est, De Avibus Historiae Libri XII [Tom. Primus], Tomus Alter [Libri XIII-XVIII]. Tomus Tertius. [Libri XIX-XX.]

Bologna: Apud Ioannem Baptistam Bellagambam, 1599, 1600, 1603

Folio: Collations: I. ¶6 (leaf ¶1 engraved t.p.), †4 (leaf †4 engraved port.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Hhhh6, Iiii8; II. π2 (engraved t.p., port.), ¶6, †4 (leaf †4 blank), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Hhhh6 (leaf Aaaa6 blank); III. †6 (leaf †1 engraved t.p., leaf †6 portrait), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Bbb6, Ccc4

FIRST EDITION. Engraved title pages and portraits. Illustrated with original illustrations by Lorenzo Bernini, Jacopo Ligozzi, and Cornelius Swint. and woodcuts by Cristoforo Coriolano and his nephew Giovanni Battista (See Anker, Bird books, p. 12). These three volumes and the book of insects (bound as Vol. XII in this set) were the only volumes of the eventual thirteen to be fully edited by Aldrovandi and printed in the author’s lifetime. Coriolano was Aldrovandi’s principal woodcut artist and Aldrovandi recommended that he continue to cut the blocks for future volumes.

Nissen, Illustrierte Vogelbücher, 18; Anker, p. 11; Yale, Ornithological books, p. 5; Ellis Coll., 42; Wellcome I, 172

IV. Fishes & Whales

De Piscibus Libri V et De Cetibus Lib. Unus.

Bologna: Apud Ioannem Baptistam Bellagambam, 1613 (colophon 1612)

Folio: Collation: π4 (π4= engraved t.p., dated 1612), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Qqq6, Rrr8

FIRST EDITION. Illustrated with approx. 400 woodcuts. Posthumously printed, eight years after Aldrovandi's death, under the direction of his Flemish pupil Giovanni Cornelio Uterwer, who served as custodian of the Studio Aldrovandi from 1610-1619 and also edited the volume on solid-hoofed quadrupeds. The range of specimens and sources demonstrate the peculiar network of naturalists and their methods. Many of the specimens were obtained by haunting fish markets and docks.

Nissen, ZBI 70; Nissen, Fischbücher 7; Westwood/Satchell, Bibliotheca Piscatoria p. 3; Krivatsy, NLM 181; Wellcome I, 172

V. Monsters

Monstrorum historia cum Paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium.

Bologna: Typis Nicolai Tebaldini, 1642

Folio: Two volumes in one: Collation: 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.)

FIRST EDITION. Illustrated with 477 woodcuts. Aldrovandi’s “History of Monsters” was the first treatise on teratology, the study of deformities, monstrosities, and prodigies. The subjects are drawn from across the spectrum of the natural world, from animals and plants to minerals and monstra (portents such as comets and atmospheric phenomena). Some of the specimens were physically kept in Aldrovandi’s renowned museum and gardens in Bologna, others were represented in his collections by paintings, engravings, and written accounts. Edited by Bartolomeo Ambrosini (1588-1657). Hired as editor in 1632, he completed three other volumes: Serpents, the “Musaeum Metallicum”, and “clawed” quadrupeds. The second volume, “Paralipomena”(things omitted), was written by Ambrosini. 

Garrison-Morton 534.53; Krivatsy, NLM 187; Wellcome I, 172; Goldschmid 43; Alden and Landis 642/2; Nissen, ZBI 74

VI. From Dogs to Chameleons: The “Clawed” Quadrupeds

De Quadrupedib. Digitatis Viviparis Libri Tres, et De Quadrupedibus Digitatis Oviparis Libri Duo. Bartholomaeus Ambrosinus… collegit.

Bologna: Typis Nicolai Tebaldini, 1637

Folio: Collation: †4 (†1 engraved t.p.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Bbb6, Ccc4; Ddd-Ooo6, alpha-beta4. 

FIRST EDITION. Engraved t.p. by Giovanni Battista Coriolano. Illustrated with 118 woodcuts, of which 69 are full-page. The animals illustrated include a lioness, a lynx, a tiger, a bear, wolves, hippopotamuses, monkeys, a beaver, rabbits, squirrels, mice, a porcupine, an armadillo, dogs, cats, salamanders, chameleons, and turtles. There are also a number of fine renderings of animal skeletons. Edited by Bartolomeo Ambrosini (custodian and editor from 1632), who completed three other volumes: Serpents, Monsters, and “Musaeum Metallicum”.

Nissen ZBI, 77; Ceresoli 43; Krivatsky, NLM 17th c., 183


VII. Cloven-hoofed Quadrupeds

Quadrupedum omnium bisulcorum historia.

Bologna: Typis Sebastiani Bonomii, 1621

Folio: Collation: †6 (†1 is engraved t.p.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Rrrr6, Ssss4, a6

FIRST EDITION. Aldrovandi’s study of cloven-hoofed quadrupeds, edited by the Scottish scholar Thomas Dempster (d. 1625), appointed as editor of Aldrovandi’s manuscripts and as custodian of the museum from 1620-1625. Illustrated with a fine engraved title page and more than 80 large woodcuts of animals.

Brunet I, 156; Nissen, ZBI 76; Wellcome I, 176


VIII. Solid-hoofed Quadrupeds

De Quadrupedibus solidipedibus volumen integrum, Joannes Cornelius Uterverius, collegit et recensuit. Hyeronimus Tamburinus in lucem edidit

Bologna: Typis Victorii Benatii, 1616

Folio: [8], 495, [33] pages. Collation: †4 (†1 is engraved t.p.), A-Z6, Aa-Rr6, Ss4, ††4, Tt-Yy4

FIRST EDITION. With numerous woodcuts including “Dürer’s” rhinoceros. Edited by Aldrovandi’s Flemish pupil Giovanni Cornelio Uterwer, who served as custodian of the Studio Aldrovandi from 1610-1619 and also edited the volume on fishes and whales.

Ceresoli 41; Libreria Vinciana 1695; Mennessier de la Lance I, 11; Huth 17; Nissen, ZBI 72


IX. Marine Invertebrates

De Reliquis Animalibus Exanguibus Libri Quatuor, nempe de Mollibus, Crustaceis, Testaceis, et Zoophytis.

Bologna: Apud Ioannem Baptistam Bellagambam, 1606 (colophon 1605)

Folio: [8], 593 [i. e., 595], [28] p. Collation: π4 (π1 is engraved t.p.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Fff6

FIRST EDITION. Illustrated with around 600 woodcuts. Edited and with a Latin preface by Aldrovandi’s second wife, Francesca Fontana, who controlled access to Aldrovandi’s museum for more than a decade after her husband’s death. In compiling this volume, Aldrovandi drew on the work of Belon, Salviani, and Gessner.

Nissen, ZBI 268

X. Snakes & Dragons

Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae Libri Duo.

Bologna: Ex Typographia Clementis Ferronii, 1640 (colophon 1639)

Collation: π1 (half-title), a1 (engraved t.p.), π1 (blank leaf), a2-4, A–Z6, Aa-Mm6, Nn4, Oo–Pp6, Qq4 (leaf Qq4 blank). This is the issue with the half-title and 3 lvs. of letterpress prelims. The other issue has only 2 lvs. of letterpress.

FIRST EDITION. Illustrated with 61 woodcuts. Engraved title page by Giovanni Battista Coriolano. Edited by Bartolomeo Ambrosini (custodian and editor from 1632), who completed three other volumes: “Clawed” quadrupeds, Monsters, and “Musaeum Metallicum”. This volume includes the “monstrous dragon” (dragone mostroficato) of 1572, “killed by a peasant on the same day that Gregory XIII was elected the highest pontiff.” Aldrovandi came into possession of the “dragon” and wrote a treatise on it and other such creatures. Although many, from nobles to naturalists to the average citizen, clamored for the publication of Aldrovandi’s treatise, it was not seen in print until its inclusion in this volume.

Nissen, ZBI 78; Wood pp. 184-85

XI. The Botanical Collection

Dendrologiae naturalis scilicet arborum historiae libri duo sylua glandaria, acinosumque pomarium vbi eruditiones omnium generum unà cum botanicis doctrinis ingenia quaecunque non parum iuvant, et oblectant Ovidius Montalbanus.

Bologna: Ex Typographia Ferroniana, 1668

Collation: †1 (engraved t.p.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Mmm6, Nnn8. Bound without half-title and 3 lvs. of prelims (†2-4). Printed line of text pasted over the first line on (A6 recto, page 11)

FIRST EDITION. Illustrated with 219 woodcuts. The last of the 13 volumes to be published, edited by Ovidio Montalbani and Lorenzo Legati. Legati also wrote the catalogue for the collection of Ferdinando Cospi, which was annexed to the Aldrovandi museum in 1657. The work is largely the work of the two editors, and reflects the sense of “Baroque wonder” that characterized the newly annexed “Museum Cospiano”.

Hunt 306; Nissen, BBI 14; Krivatsy, NLM, 186; Wellcome, I, 172


XII. Insects

De animalibus insectis libri septem. 

Bologna: Apud Io. Baptistam Bellagambam 1602

Folio: Collation: [†]6 (†1 engraved t.p., †6 engr. port.), A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Xxx6, Yyy4

FIRST EDITION. Illustrated with approx. 700 woodcuts. The book of insects and the three-volume Ornithology were the only volumes of the eventual thirteen to be fully edited by Aldrovandi and printed in the author’s lifetime. It was the first natural history of insects to be published in Europe, since the researches of Gessner remained unfinished and in manuscript until 1634. It covers bees, wasps, and hornets; butterflies, moths, dragonflies; flies (including mosquitoes) and other insects with 2 wings (dipterans); four-winged insects (grasshoppers, crickets, beetles); those without wings (ants, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes); worms and snails; and some aquatic invertebrates.

Nissen, ZBI 66

XIII. Metals & Minerals, including Fossils

Musaeum Metallicum

Bologna: Typis Io. Baptistae Ferronii, 1648

Folio: Collation: ¶3 (lacks blank ¶4) A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Nnnn6, Oooo4

FIRST EDITION of this landmark in mineralogical studies. Illustrated with ca. 1200 woodcuts in the text. In addition to the “metals” mentioned in the title, there are gems, shells, minerals, and fossils, including the “glossae petrae”, fossils of the teeth of prehistoric shark Carcharodon Megalodon (an actual specimen of which is included with this volume.)

Edited by Bartolomeo Ambrosini (custodian and editor from 1632), who completed three other volumes: Serpents, Monsters, and “clawed” quadrupeds.

Cobres 163 14.12; Nissen, ZBI 75; Osler 1773; Sinkankas 72; Ward and Carozzi 43; Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, pp 27-8; Krivatsy, NLM 188; Wellcome, I, 172; Alden, 648/5