Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus

Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus Facsimile Edition

Spain — 16th – 17th century

New knowledge from the New World: a huge compendium of the hitherto unknown plants, animals, and minerals of South America with an 80-year origin story collected by the personal physician of Philip II of Spain

  1. First commissioned in 1570 by King Philip II of Spain (1527-98), it was finally publised in 1651

  2. The King’s court physician Francisco Hernández de Toledo (1514-1587) spent seven years in Mexico

  3. This specimen features rich handwritten annotations by Federico Cesi (1585‒1630)

Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus

This vast 17th century printed tome is an incredible compendium concerning the botany, zoology, and minerology of the New World. Originally commissioned in 1570 by King Philip II of Spain (1527–98), the work would take 80 years to complete and required the collaboration physicians, scientists, draughtsman, and printers. Finally published in 1651, the work is primarily concerned with the medicinal applications of previously unknown plants from the New World. This particular copy is also known as the Esemplare Cesiano because of its rich handwritten annotations by Federico Cesi (1585‒1630), the Italian naturalist and founder of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome.

Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus

A scientific work 80 years in the making: after being first commissioned in 1570 by King Philip II of Spain (1527-98), the Novae Hispaniae thesaurus, seu, Plantarum animalium mineralium Mexicanorum historia or “Inventory of medical items from New Spain, or “History of Mexican plants, animals and minerals” was finally published in 1651. It consists of an exhaustive study of the natural environment of the New World with a special emphasis on the medical applications of its as-yet-unknown plants. Commonly known as the Tesoro Messicano or Mexican treasure, this copy is also known as the Esemplare Cesiano for its rich handwritten annotations by Federico Cesi (1585‒1630), the Italian naturalist and founder of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome.

An Epic Labor

The project began when the Philip II appointed his court physician, Francisco Hernández de Toledo (1514-1587), to be chief physician of the Indies. Philip ordered Hernández to travel to Mexico, but when he returned seven years later, the huge collection of unintelligible names together with drawings depicting unknown plants and animals did not receive the King’s approval. Hernández was replaced by Leonardo Recchi, who organized the text into a form that that was more in line with the King’s original desire for a list of plants with medical uses. In 1610, Recchi’s manuscript found its way into the hands of Cesi, who took on the task of completing the work and ensuring that it was printed. Cesi commissioned commentary and exegesis by Johannes Faber, Fabio Colonna, and Joannes Terentius, and he had Francesco Stelluti compile the indexes. The volume carries four printing privileges dating from 1623‒27: Privilegium Summi Pontificis (by Pope Urban VIII), Privilegium Imperatoris (by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II), Privilegium Regis Galliae (by King Louis XIII of France), and Privilegium Magni Ducis Etruriae (by Ferdinando II, duke of Tuscany), plus a dedication to Philip IV dated 1650 and the imprimatur of 1651. The title page, engraved by Johann Friedrich Greuter, has the incorrect date of 1649.

The Convoluted Printing Process

Publishing the volume was a disordered process of assembling various parts that were first printed separately at different times, but this was nonetheless accomplished by Vitale Mascardi(ca. 1634-49 fl.), a printer and architect in Rome. The first part of the grand encyclopedia consists of ten books: the first book, Prolegomena (Foreword), explains the methodology followed by Recchi in processing the text of Hernández. Books two through eight contain descriptions of plants; the ninth book has descriptions of animals; while the tenth deals with minerals. The second part (pp. 465‒840) is a detailed description of the animals of Mexico by Johannes Faber (1574-1629). The third part (pp. 841‒99) contains Annotationes et Additiones (Notes and addenda) by Fabio Colonna (1567-1640).

Cesi’s Rich Annotations

The work ends with 20 tables, identified as Tabulae Phytosophicae (botanical tables) by Cesi and even though he did not finish the compilation of Tabulae Phytosophicae, the completed tables appear in the present copy. Cesi’s annotations are either brief cross-referencing notes, placed under the titles and very often close to the figures of flowers and plants, or complex marginal notes on the outside edge of the pages. His notes identify plants and, where necessary, propose new names. The work is a monumental 17th century compendium of the botany, zoology, and mineralogy of the New World, the result of teamwork over many decades between scientists and travelers.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Tesoro Messicano
Mexican Treasure
Esemplare Cesiano
Size / Format
952 pages / 33.1 × 22.3 cm
Origin
Spain
Date
16th – 17th century
Content
Prolegomena (Foreword); Descriptions of Mexican animals; Annotationes et Additiones (Notes and addenda); Tabulae Phytosophicae (Botanical tables).
Patron
King Philip II of Spain
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus – Archivio Linceo n. 31 – Biblioteca dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Linceo (Rome, Italy) Facsimile Edition
Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato – Rome, 1992
Facsimile Editions

#1 Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus

Publisher: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato – Rome, 1992
Commentary: 1 volume by G. B. Marini Bettòlo
Language: Italian
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
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