Historia Naturalis. Edited by Philippus Beroaldus. Gaius PLINIUS SECUNDUS.
Historia Naturalis. Edited by Philippus Beroaldus.
Historia Naturalis. Edited by Philippus Beroaldus.

Splendidly Illuminated

Historia Naturalis. Edited by Philippus Beroaldus.

Roman type, double column, 50 lines per page. Numerous initials & rubrics supplied in red & blue alternately, illuminated with 37 large initials in gold and colors, and a painted border heightened with gold & including a coat of arms on fol. 23. 358 leaves (without first and final blank). Folio (298 x 206 mm.), Italian 17th-century brown morocco (some worming to spine, some wear to joints & top of binding), covers richly gilt with three different borders with floral tools and rosettes at the corners, the second frame decorated with tools forming fans in the corners, in the centre an empty shield formed of two fillets enclosing a painted brown listel with gilt dots, all surrounded by small tools and helmet on top, a.e.g. Treviso: Michael Manzolus, “25 August 1479” [but not before 13 October].

Sixth Latin edition, the second edited by Filippo Beroaldo, of the greatest general scientific and encyclopedic work of antiquity, a storehouse of physical, geographical, and historical knowledge which profoundly affected the Western world’s thought for more than 1500 years. It deals with mathematics, physics, geography, astronomy, medicine, physiology, zoology, botany, geology, mineralogy, anthropology, philosophy, history, agriculture, the arts and letters, etc.

The Historia naturalis was especially popular among the humanists. One of them was the philologist Filippo Beroaldo the Elder (1453-1505), the most important exponent of humanism in Bologna. He taught rhetoric and poetry at the University of Bologna, and he edited and commented the works of numerous classical authors, as for example, Apuleius, Suetonius, Aulus Gellius, Propertius, and others. The edition of Pliny’s Historia naturalis is one of his first major works, first published in Parma 1476 by Stephanus Corallus.

The present edition, printed at Treviso by Michele Manzolo or Manzolinus (born in Parma 1420-ca. 1482), is a reprint from the Parma edition. However, it contains on the first two leaves an Apologia of Pliny and a poem by Filippo Beroaldo that are not to be found in earlier editions. The colophon is dated 25 Aug. 1479 but the poem (fol. a3v) is dated “Tarvisii tertio idus Octobres Mcccclxxix” (13 October 1479).


Our copy has been splendidly illuminated by a contemporary Italian artist in the distinct tradition of Italian humanist manuscripts of the 15th century, with letters surrounded by “white vine scroll,” a form of interlacing plant scroll in which emphasis is on the branch, not on the leaves. The finely drawn and colored decoration comprises an initial with a full border on leaf c1, the beginning of Pliny’s text (Book II), and 36 large initials opening the other books. The elaborate border is composed of intricate white vine-scroll on red and green grounds on a blue surround with white triple dots. The lower border incorporating a coat of arms painted on a blue ground with a green frame; it shows a black eagle on gold ground above a red and white (silver) checkerboard pattern (see our Provenance note). The large initials in burnished gold are decorated in the same style, several with extensions into the margins. Interestingly, this decoration is found in several Bolognese manuscripts and incunabula in the period of 1468 until 1500 (see for several examples: Guernelli 2006). Could it be that the editor Beroaldo was somehow instrumental in the link between Treviso, where the book was printed and his hometown Bologna, where the decoration was added?


The coat of arms inserted in the border on the beginning of Pliny’s text shows a black imperial eagle or surmounting chequy argent gule. These are the arms of the counts Ottoni, rulers of Matelica, near Macerata (The Marches). Members of this celebrated Italian family excelled, with the papal army, at the wars of the Papal State against the Italian states and foreign powers. In particular, the illumination of the present Historia naturalis might have been made for Alessandro Ottoni (d. 1485). Count Alessandro, “saggio e magnifico sovrano,” was captain of the papal army in the wars against Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta and the king of Naples. He was a patron of the arts and crafts, builder of churches and Renaissance monuments at Matelica, and restored ancient buildings of that town. Although the edition is represented quite frequently in public collections, it is extremely rare on the market. Only one other copy is listed in ABPC (1975-2013), sold at auction in 1984.

A fine and large copy with wide margins. First three leaves reinforced at the gutter, some worming to first and last few leaves, some minor thumbing and staining, light water-staining in outer margins of nine last quires. Some worming to spine, damages at joints and top of binding.

We kindly thank D. Guernelli for information on the decoration.

❧ Goff P-791. Klebs 786.6. On the Ottoni family see: R.W. Lightbown, Carlo Crivelli, Yale 2004, p. 473f. On the illumination see: Daniele Guernelli, “Note per una tipologia umanistica bolognese.” in: Schede Umanistiche, no. 1 (2006), pp. 21-42.

Price: $225,000.00

Item ID: 4794

See all items by