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PORTA, Giambattista della (1535–1615)

Phytognomonica ... octo libris contenta. In quibus nova, facillimaque affertur methodus, qua plantarum, animalium, metalloru[m], rerum deniq[ue] omniu[m] ex prima extimae faciei inspectione quivis abditas vires assequatur. Accedunt ad haec confirmanda infinita propemodu[m] selectiora secreta, summo labore, temporis dispendio, et impensarum iactura vestigata, explorataq[ue] ... Neapoli, apud Horatium Salvianum, 1588 [Imprimatur:] 24. Novembris 1587. [Colophon:] M. D. LXXXVIII

Naples: Orazio Salviani, 1588
Folio: A–2R4 2A–C4 (blank 2C4), 172 leaves, pp. 320 [24]. Roman letter with Italic headings. Title within a woodcut border made up of 4 blocks which are also used in the text as headpieces, woodcut initials. Woodcut portrait of the author on the verso of the titlepage and 32 large woodcuts (c. 140 x 160mm) in the text, including 2 repeats.
Condition: 297 x 202mm. Title a little dustsoiled and with worm holes in two corners affecting the woodcut in the upper-right corner; sig. DD supplied from another copy and re-margined at the foot, light browning to a few leaves of the index.
Binding: Eighteenth-century English sprinkled calf, marbled endleaves. Rebacked and corners repaired.
Provenance: Walter Pagel (1896–1983); B. E. J. Pagel (1930–2007).
First edition, with the index (sigs A–C) which is often lacking. Some copies are dated 1589. Reprinted at Frankfurt in 1591 with copies of the woodcuts.
Bibliography: EDIT16 CNCE 16534; Adams P1938; Durling 3734 (1589 state of title); Hunt 158; Mortimer, Italian 399; Wellcome 5203.

One of the most attractively illustrated herbals of the sixteenth-century. ‘It is sometimes held that della Porta was the real originator of the botanical Doctrine of Signatures in any approximation to a scientific form. The theory was that Divine Providence had formed plants in such a way as to indicate the ailments they would cure (e.g. a walnut looked like the human brain, so would cure head ailments). Protagonists of this theory quarrelled violently with those who believed in astrological medicine.’ (Hunt.)
The superbly designed and cut illustrations combine plants and animals with human body parts in various relationships. Some show the part the plant resembles, which is therefore a suitable medicine, for example eye-bright for the eye; or they show the cause of the insult, such as the scorpion, together with the plants which resemble it and are therefore antidotes. The four part title border incorporates plants and animals in the side panels; Porta's device of a lynx with his motto ‘Aspicit et inspicit’ in the top panel (re-used at the start of the text); and the figure of Pomona in the bottom panel.
The extensive index, 22 pages in double columns, was probably issued later as it is present, as in this copy, in only about 50% of copies. Adams records that it is present in 2 of 3 copies in Cambridge and Mortimer records that it is present in 3 of 5 Harvard copies but in neither of the 2 British Library copies. It is present in the National Library of Medicine copy which has a variant state of the titlepage dated 1589.
Literature: Agnes Arber, Herbals (1938), various references but especialy p. 251ff.
Keywords:     herbal    therapeutics