Historia Naturalis.

Parma, Andreas Portilia, 8 July 1481.


Royal Folio. (40.2 x 28.1 cm.), A8 B6 C-E8 F6 G-H8 I-L6 M-Y8 Z6 &4 a-f8 g6 2a-2d8 2e6, lacking blanks at beginning and end. Roman letter in two sizes. First page of text (A2r) with a very large contemporary lavishly illuminated initial “L” (liquid gold and vivid green, blue and purple colours: a Venetian atelier?), spanning the width of 15 lines of text, without taking into account the extensive marginal foliation; at the foot of the same page, an illuminated heraldic shield, unidentified (noble Florentine family of Acciaiuoli? a rampant lion, slightly erased, within a shield at the centre of a laurel wreath on a shell-like blue background with two intertwined cornucopias containing fruits and plant leaves). C1r also carries an illuminated initial from the same time. Some light foxing, spotting and staining, particularly to margins, light scattering of wormholes towards beginning, mended snag to bottom margin of last leaf of text, owner’s inscription almost completely removed from sig. a4r and very faded old stamp on recto of rear endpaper. A very good, clean and wide-margined copy, many pages of remarkable freshness, in early vellum (soiled, ties removed, top joint mended). Early shelf mark in ink on verso of initial blank. Contemporary or early marginalia in two hands, especially on the first page of the text.

A superb copy of the third Parma edition of Pliny’s Natural History, which was the main medieval source for ancient science. In this work Pliny gives a mathematical and physical description of the world, discusses geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, sculpture and painting. As “a purveyor of information both scientific and non-scientific, Pliny holds a place of exceptional importance in the tradition and diffusion of culture” (DSB). In the present work, Pliny “gives us by far the most detailed account of the coast of the United Arab Emirates that has come down to us. Chapter 32 of Book 6, “beginning near the Qatar peninsula, proceeds to describe the Emirates islands, tribes, and coast right up to the Musandam peninsula, before continuing on south along the coast of Oman”. Pliny “completed his work in 77AD and, to judge from his account of the peoples and places of south-eastern Arabia […], the area of the UAE was full of settlements, tribes, and physical features, the names of which he recorded for posterity” (Ghareeb/Al Abed 54).

This book is illuminated for a contemporary Italian owner, and carries contemporary or early annotations by two different hands. Although this is a wide-margined copy, the books shows signs of trimming, slightly affecting some of the marginalia. One is a scientific gloss, while the other comprises notes of a philological or historical nature and includes sporadic suggestions for better readings of the text. Chapter 10 of Book 28, which deals with medicines from animal origin, in particular wild boars, goats and similar beasts, shows the interest in this topic by one of the early owners who left plenty of annotations. At sig. bb8r (Book 35) there is a reference to the humanist Lorenzo Valla (1405–1457) concerning Pliny’s arguments regarding the deceptive power of painting in relation to birds. Filippo Beroaldo the Elder edited this incunable. He was a humanities teacher at the University of Bologna and editor of early printed Classics, who normally produced work for the Bolognese publisher Ugo Ruggeri.

BMC VII, 937; BSB-Ink P-604; Goff P 793; Hain 13094*; HC 13094; ISTC ip00793000; Oates 2573; Rush Hawkins 339.