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SACROBOSCO, Joannes de

Sphaera Mundi

Bonetus Locatellus for Octavianus Scotus, Venice, 4 October 1490
Quarto (205 x 155 mm.), full modern green morocco by Zaehnsdorf, with cloth and paper slipcase. Printed in 48 leaves, 41 lines, types: 105 R.; 80 R, with full-page woodcut of Astronomia, Urania and Ptolemy on verso of title, woodcut of an armillary sphere on a4v, woodcut illustrations and diagrams, including 7 printed in up to four colours (black, red, brown and yellow), publisher’s device in red at end. With light, mainly marginal thumb-soiling, otherwise in good condition.
The mathematician Johannes de Sacrobosco (c.1190-d.1244 or 1256) was probably born as John Holywood in Halifax, Yorkshire. Campbell states that he moved to Paris about 1220 and spent much of the rest of his life teaching ‘mathematics and astrology at the University’. He is mainly remembered for the ‘Sphaera Mundi’ first published in Ferrara in 1472. It was to become the standard text on astronomy and cosmography with no less than 60 editions being printed before 1500. The treatise drew on Ptolemy’s ‘Almagest’ but its popularity rested on the fact that it was ‘simple and compact’ (Campbell). Taylor stated the ‘brilliance [of the] mathematical geography of John Holywood, or Sacrobosco, author of a ‘Tractatus de sphera mundi’, written about 1233, and recommended by John Dee in 1570 as still the best work for elementary instruction in the subject’. It has four chapters which ‘deal with the terrestrial globe, with circles, with the movements of the stars and with the planets. It was doubtless this brevity which recommended it to seafaring folk – for it is known to have been one of the standard text books of the Portuguese seamen during their great age of exploration’ (World Encompassed).

Of the original 1472 printed edition only one example survives. The first illustrated edition was printed in Venice in 1478 by Renner de Heilbronn. This edition is the fifth collected of most influential pre-Copernican work on astronomy published in Europe. The text also includes Regiomontanus’ attack on the planetary theory of Gerard of Cremona. ‘The woodcut and the diagrams, some of which are coloured, appear to be from the same blocks employed by De Sanctis in his 1488 edition’ (BMC).

Provenance: old marginalia (cropped) – ‘U P’ bookplate on first front free endpaper; Giancarlo beltrame Library sale at Christies King Street, 26 April 2017. BMC V 438; Campbell (1987) ‘The Earliest Printed Maps 1472-1500’, p. 105; Goff J-409; HC 14113; Klebs 874.14; Sander 6664; Taylor (1930) pp. 2-3; USTC 993977; World Encompassed no. 13.
Stock number: 9237

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