Paris: for the author, 1588. First edition.
Exceptionally fine copy, with distinguished provenance, of one of the most important books on the science and technology of machines in the renaissance, and one of the most famous illustrated books of the sixteenth century – a tour de force of book design. This is a splendid copy in contemporary French gilt vellum, ruled in red, and entirely untouched. We are not aware of a similar copy in quality since the Norman-Freilich copy (sold Sotheby’s 2001, $291,750).
Provenance: Francoise d'Espinay de Bretagne, first wife of Henri de Schomberg, comte de Nanteuil (1604 gift inscription on front free endpaper); Princes of Liechtenstein (stamp on title); Otto Schäfer (sold Sotheby’s 1995, £38,900).
A fundamental book in the history both of technology and of book design, and “one of the most elegantly produced of all technological treatises” (Norman). The scientific import of Ramelli’s work resides in his demonstration of “the unlimited possibilities of machines. For example, the dozens of water-powered pumps and mills shown in his treatise clearly demonstrated that non-muscular power could be substituted for horse- or human-power in any mechanical task requiring continuous or repetitive application of force, and the portrayal of over twenty types of water pump ... destroyed the notion that there were necessary limits t the configuration or arrangement of a machine” (ibid.) About half of the engravings depict hydraulic devices, the rest showing military machines as well as fountains, bridges, cranes, foundry equipment, etc., and a smattering of innovative devices such as the famous ‘reading wheel’ or the bouquet with artificial singing birds. The influence of the illustrations was far- reaching and they were copied in a number of technical books during the next two centuries.
“The plates in Ramelli’s treatise are artistically as well as technologically superb, the bilingual text beautifully printed, and both plates and text surrounded by handsome borders of typographic ornaments. The reasons for this sumptuousness were twofold: First, Ramelli had dedicated the book to his patron Henri m; and second, he had previously had several designs stolen from him by a trusted associate (probably Ambroise Bachot, later engineer to Henri IV), who published them in corrupt and mutilated form and claimed them as his own. As a result of this experience Ramelli planned his treatise as a particularly lavish work that would be difficult to counterfeit, and produced and published it from his own house where he could maintain absolute control over the project. He succeeded in preventing any pirated editions and made the book so expensiveand difficult to produce that it was reprinted only once, in a German edition of 1620, before the twentieth century.” (Norman).
Dibner 173; Norman 1777; Mortimer French 452; Wellcome 5323; Adams R52; Cockle 788.
Folio (354 x 228 mm). Ruled in red throughout. Roman (French) and italic (Italian) types. Engraved title within architectural frame by Leonard Gaultier, each leaf of text printed within a border of typographical fleurons, engraved portrait of Ramelli by Gaultier on title-page verso, 194 engravings (174 full-page, 20 full-sheet) numbered I-CXCV (CXLVIII and CXLIX combined on a single engraving), three signed with the cipher 'JG' (CL-CLII). (Four leaves comprising n1 [f.97], o1 [f.105, mis-signed n1], o8 [f.112] and n8 [f.104] misbound, very short minor tears to i4 and T2, tiny marginal chips to i8 and V3, small marginal chip repaired on P2, occasional light spotting and browning.) Contemporary French limp vellum, covers framed with gilt double fillet enclosing gilt centre ornament of laurel leaf tools, flat gilt spine, lettered at head of spine in ink manuscript, gilt edges (small stain on upper cover of binding, spine lightly soiled, lacking ties), modern green cloth slipcase.