Avicenna, Canon medicinae, Cover of a Book with the First Printed Illustrations Prepared from a Microscope, Galileo’s Own Instrument



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Avicenna, Canon medicinae in the translation of Gerard of Cremona, Glossed. Remains of a bifolium on vellum used as the wrapper of a book dated 1630 with the first printed illustrations prepared with a microscope (Galileo’s own instrument). Italy, ca. 1400: covers measuring approx. 224 mm x 170 mm. Text on outside cover only, as the inside is lined with a pastedown. Double column, remains of 42 lines. Decoration: Alternating red and blue two-line initials with contrasting vertical penwork; rubricated. Text and Context: The Persian Avicenna (Ibn Sina, d. 1037) was one of the greatest intellectuals, philosophers, and physicians of his day. He wrote prodigiously, and his Canon medicinae in the translation of Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187) became one of the standard texts of practical medicine in the medieval West. Gerard was the most famous translator of scientific works in Arabic, and the key means of transmitting Arabic learning to Europe. His influence as a conduit of Middle Eastern knowledge cannot be understated. Our manuscript would have been used and studied by an Italian physician of the early fifteenth century. This fragment concerns sweat (an important diagnostic) and the progress of fevers. Edition: Avicennae Arabum Medicorum Principis ex Gerardi Cremonensis Versione et Andreae Alpagi Bellunensis Castigatione, vol. 2 (Venice, 1605); online at this link.

LOWER COVER. Page 94. Book IV, fen. 2, tract. 1,  cap. 67, line 22: rubric Diversitas membrorum in sudendo: Memor que plus sudant … p. 96, cap. 71, line 65: humiditates aeris.

UPPER COVER. Page 106. Book IV, fen. 2, tract. 2, cap. 6, line 21: mala quod si evenerit … cap. 10, line 59: ad evacuationem.

Condition: considerable wear, but mostly legible. Provenance: forming the cover of Francesco Stelluti, Persio Tradotto in Verso (Rome, 1630). Only two copies recorded in North America by WorldCat (Smithsonian and Corning Museum of Glass), and two others in Canada. According to Charles Singer (History of Biology (New York, 1950), p. 148) figures of the honeybee on page 52 and of the weevil on page 127 are considered “the first illustrations prepared with a microscope that were set forth in a printed book.” The microscope used was Galileo’s. From an old Italian library with shelfmark label on spine; Samuelson collection, San Francisco.

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