An incunable leaf from the Hortus Sanitatis with five woodcuts
Verso: Text in two columns printed in a gothic font on laid rag paper. Heading Tractatus (Treatise). Two woodcuts: Winged Serpent (Jaculus) and Icinus (“a terrestrial animal”). Spaces have been left at the start of each chapter for an illuminator to add the capital letters by hand.
Recto: As Verso with woodcuts of a porcupine, goat and antelope. Heading: De Animalibus (On Animals).
Source: Strasbourg Printer: Johann Prüss Date: c.1497
Condition: This leaf is in good/very good antiquarian condition with just the expected edge browning and some light page-turning stains in the bottom margin, well away from the text. Full margins. The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.
Notes: The Hortus Sanitatis (Garden of Health) is the most comprehensive work on natural history produced in the Middle Ages. It contains all the knowledge then available on plants, beasts, fishes, birds, and minerals, together with their curative uses. The unnamed author was either a German physician, Johann Wonnecke von Kaub (1430-1503) or Johannes von Cuba, the editor of Gart der Gesundheit (Garden of Health). The original edition was printed at Mainz in 1491 by Jacob Meydenbach, then Johann Prüss in the late 1490’s issued three editions (of which this appears to be the first) at Strasbourg. It is first of all a medical work, and only secondarily a book on natural history. The Latin language as well as the compressed style with its many reference to ancient writers indicate that the work was intended much more for the physician than for the layman. Each chapter is divided into two parts; the first (Capitulum) gives a description of the subject and the second - Operationes) - describes its medical effects.
The main interest of the woodcuts lies in the fact that it was the first time that the art was employed to depict natural objects, instead of religious and folk scenes, portraits, city views, and coats of arms. The sections on animals and fishes are particularly interesting with woodcuts and discussions on all manner of mythical as well as real beasts and fishes, including mer-people, unicorns, basilisks and monkfish and dogfish which are portrayed respectively as having the real heads of monks and dogs.
Although ostensibly medical in purpose, the book also features many of the standard medieval bestiary accounts including the story of the phoenix, of how bear cubs were born formless and licked into shape by their parents, and how the pelican pricks its breast to feed its young with its own blood. In spite of the obvious effort to represent the subjects realistically, the woodcuts are particularly quaint to our eyes. They are the work of a medieval, late-gothic artist — or artists — without the slightest influence of the Renaissance.
Hortus Sanitatis proved to be very popular and it went through a number of editions during the late 15th and the first half of the 16th century. It was translated into French, English, German and Dutch. The last complete edition was printed in Frankfurt in 1552, just before the new approach to science and botany rendered it obsolete.
Size: Size of leaf: approx. 290x200 mm.
References: Choulant, Graphische Incunabeln 61, 16. Goff, Hain.
Item No: PSE 095a