Cardano’s Encyclopaedia
CARDANO, Girolamo
De Subtilitate libri XXI
Nuremberg, Johann Petreius, 1550
Folio (285 x 190 mm) 18 un.ll. (including last blank), 371 pp. 18th century calf, spine gilt with raised bands.
25 000 
Norman, I, 401 ; Adams, C-668 ; Dibner, 139 ; Caillet, 2017; Duveen, pp. 116-117 ; Hoover, 205; Wellcome, 1290 ; Sinkankas, I, 1145 (“substantial content of information on gemstones”) ; Neville only for the 1580 Lyon edition; Thorndike, V, 570-571; DSB, III, 64-66. Not in NLM.

In stock

First edition of Cardano’s most celebrated work.

Encyclopaedic in nature, this book contains sections on technology, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, various branches of the occult, mineralogy, gemology, mechanics, hydrodynamics, geology, electricity etc. and describes numerous experiments and apparatus (including pumps and the screw of Archimedes).

“Cardano’s encyclopaedic De subtilitate was the most advanced presentation of physical knowledge up to its time. It contains many remarkable observations and ideas, including Cardano’s distinction between the attractive power of rubbed amber (electric) and the lodestone (magnetic), his pre-evolutionary belief in creation as progressive development, and the premise that natural law was unified and could be known through observation and experiment. The similarity of many of Cardano’s scientific opinions to those in the unpublished works of Leonardo da Vinci have led some scholars to speculate that Cardano had access to Leonardo’s manuscripts, although others argue that the similitude is coincidental” (Norman).

Includes a description of a touch-system not unlike Braille, as an aid to the blind and a suggestion regarding a sign-language for the deaf. According to Garrison, Cardano’s biological concepts tended toward evolution… Cardano refers to the electro-magnetic powers of the lodestone, magnetic declination, and electrification by friction… His concepts regarding heat and various other matters veered toward the modern” (Stillwell, the Awakening of Science during the first century of Printing 1450-1550).

The German typographer, established in Basel, Johann Petreius (1497-1550), printed many important science books including the first edition of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543.

Cardano published two encyclopedias of natural science  : De Subtilitate libri XXI (1550) and De rerum varietate (1557) a supplement to De Subtilitate. The two works, written in an elliptical and often obscure Latin, contain a little of everything: from cosmology to the construction of machines; from the usefulness of natural sciences to the evil influence of demons; from the laws of mechanics to cryptology. It is am mine of facts, both real and imaginary; of notes of the state of the sciences; of superstition, technology, alchemy, and various branches of the occult” (DSB).

Woodcut arms on title, woodcut portrait of Cardano and woodcut illustration in the text.

Provenance: Johannes Morellus (contemporary inscription on the title and marginalia) – Pierre Levesque (received as prize on 3 August 1716 as 3rd year student of Latin as the Jesuit school in the city of Mesnil-Garnier in the region of Normandy).

Some occasional light waterstain, small burnhole to inner margin of 6 leaves not touching text; binding expertly restored.