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PORTA, Giambattista della (1535–1615)

PORTA, Giambattista della (1535–1615)

Natural magick by John Baptista Porta, a Neapolitane: in twenty books ... Wherein are set forth all the riches and delights of the natural sciences

London: printed for Thomas Young, and Samuel Speed and are to be sold at the Three Pigeons, and at the Angel in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1658
Folio: π2 C2 D–3I4, 212 leaves, pp. [8] 409 (pp. 385–392 misnumbered 381–388) [7], etched title on π1r by Richard Gaywood (Johnson p. 21 no. 10), printed title in red and black on π2r, Woodcut device on title, headpieces and initials and diagrams printed in the text.
Condition: 278 x 180mm. Brown vertical stain on title; some light browning and foxing; paper flaw in 2H3 with loss of a few letters; clean tear in lower margin of 2R4; a fresh copy.
Binding: Contemporary sprinkled sheep, blind ruled sides, gilt spine, red morocco lettering piece, red edges. Joints and corners repaired, boards scuffed.
Provenance: Contemporary or early signature ‘Nic Downing’ on etched titlepage; several early shelf-marks; nineteenth-century armorial bookplate of Michael Holland on pastedown.
First edition in English. A translation of Magiae naturalis libri viginti (1589) (first published in four books, 1558). The sheets were re-issued in 1669 (Wing P2982A).
Bibliography: Wing P2982; Wheeler Gift Catalogue 64b; ESTC R33476.

The first English edition of one of the most famous books of renaissance science. It was Porta’s first book and established his reputation.
Chapter 17 on Optics is perhaps the most important, containing descriptions of a variety of optical devices. Porta was the first to give a coherent description of the camera obscura, and the first to report adding a concave lens to the aperture. He also juxtaposed concave and convex lenses and reports various experiments with them. He was one of the first to suggest the combination of lenses to form a telescope or microscope. Spectacles are also discussed. Another important chapter describes numerous pneumatic experiments. Porta based much of his information on magnetic phenomena on Peregrinus; William Gilbert was indebted to both Peregrinus and Porta in writing De magnete (1600).
Although in its expanded form in the 1589 edition the work must be considered in the context of experimental science – and Thorndike (VI, 422) suggests that Bacon owed something to Porta’s experimental method – Magia naturalis was in its origins a book of secrets and gives a wide range of practical information for tradesmen; and on plants and animal husbandry, how to make women beautiful, cookery, transmutation of metals, distillation, gems, cryptography and so on. It has an important place in the literature of technology and applied science in English.
[Porta's Magia naturalis] ‘presumes an orderly and rational universe into which the magician-scientist has insights that are revealed to him because of his virtue and his study. Natural magic entails a survey of the whole of nature, but with a modicum of modesty Porta acknowledges that it may merely be the practical part of natural philosophy. The 1589 edition represents in part the work, discussions, and experiments that took place at Porta’s academy – hence the emphasis on experimentation and application in his definition of natural magic.’ (M. Howard Reinstra DSB 11:96b).
The splendid etched titlepage is by Richard Gaywood (c. 1630–1680). Eight panels surround the title: chaos at the top, a portrait of Porta at the bottom; Fire (the salamander), Ayre (birds), Earth (land animals) and Water (sea creatures) in the corners; personifications of Art and Nature on either side.