Le Diverse et Artifiose Machine... Nelle quali si contengono varii et industriosi Movimenti, degni di Grandissima Speculatione, per cavarne beneficio infinito in ogni sorte d'operatione.

Paris: for the author, 1588.

First edition, a magnificent copy bound in contemporary gilt vellum, and with outstanding provenance, of one of the most famous illustrated books of the sixteenth century and a landmark in book design. “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 III; 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' (Norman). Together with Agricola’s De Re Metallica (1556), Ramelli’s work was the most influential and copied of all the early illustrated manuals of inventions and machines. Its influence was felt in such later works as Böckler’s Theatrum machinarum (1662), and it was even copied in China, where it had been taken by Jesuit missionaries. This is without doubt one of the finest copies to have appeared on the market, the only comparable copy being that of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc in the Norman library (Christie's New York, 18 March 1998, lot 168, $200,500; subsequently sold at the Freilich sale, Sotheby’s New York, 11 January 2001, lot 449, $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 27 June 1995, lot 163, £38,900).

Ramelli was born in northern Italy, probably in 1531. As a young man he served under the famous Italian warlord, Gian Giacomo de' Medici, Marquis of Marignano, and became trained in mathematics and military engineering. His reputation grew and he eventually left for France to serve under the Duke of Anjou, later King Henry III. His year of death is unknown and usually given as ‘circa 1600,’ but since documents exist to show that he was still alive in 1608, circa 1610 is a more realistic approximation.

“Ramelli was greatly influenced by the increasing importance placed on mathematics and geometry as an important tool for engineers and artists, and particularly by the writings of Guidobaldo del Monte (1545-1607) and Petrus Ramus (1515-1572). Ramelli's interest in mathematics is demonstrated in the preface to his book, ‘On the excellence of mathematics in which is shown how necessary mathematics are for learning all the liberal arts.’ Ramelli also wanted to make his book accessible to many engineers so, as an Italian living in France, he produced both Italian and French descriptions of the machines.

“The book itself is a fine example of the exquisite work of late sixteenth-century French printers and artists. It is a large book in folio format thus allowing great detail to be placed in the numerous engraved plates which total 195 in all (although plates 148 and 149 are combined into one image). Twenty of the plates are two-page spreads. Ramelli's bilingual descriptions are much more detailed than those found in previous illustrated books of machines (popularly called ‘theaters of machines’) by Jacques Besson (Theatrum instrumentorum et machinarum, 1569) and Jean Errard de Bar-le-Duc (Le premier livre des instruments mathématiques mechaniques, 1584).

“Ramelli's book had a great influence on future mechanical engineering as can be see in Georg Andreas Böckler's work, Theatrum machinarum novum, 1662, where he copied eighteen of Ramelli's plates. Ramelli's influence can also be seen in the well-known works of Grollier de Servière (Recueil d'ouvrages curieux de mathematique et de mecanique, 1719) and Jacob Leupold (the multi-volume set Theatrum machinarum, 1724-1739). Leupold's work helped pass along Ramelli's ideas to a large population of eighteenth-century engineers.

“Of the 195 machines pictured in the book, the majority are of devices designed to raise water. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 110 Water-raising machines
  • 21 Grain mills
  • 4 Other mills
  • 10 Cranes
  • 7 Machines for dragging large objects
  • 2 Machines to raise excavated earth
  • 2 Cofferdams
  • 4 Fountains and artificial bird-calls
  • 1 Book wheel
  • 15 Military bridges
  • 14 Screw jacks and other breaking devices
  • 4 Hurling engines
  • 1 Gunner's quadrant

“Bachot was an apprentice and assistant to Ramelli, eventually becoming an architect and engineer to King Henry IV. As described in Gnudi’s introduction to her translation of Ramelli, during the sixteen years he spent with Ramelli, Bachot learned a great deal about engineering but had a falling out with the elder engineer and attempted to pass off some of Ramelli's machine designs as his own in an attempt to gain patronage. These designs were published in 1587 in a book by Bachot, Le Timon, and the similarity in style between Bachot's engravings and Ramelli's is impressive. After intense research, Gnudi concluded that Bachot engraved the plates for his own work and most of those produced for Ramelli's book as well. After their falling out in 1587, Ramelli still used the plates Bachot engraved for him rather than have them redone. Gnudi never claimed that Bachot produced the original drawings, but rather engraved the plates after Ramelli’s drawings.

“Only the one edition of the book was issued during Ramelli’s lifetime. In 1620, a German translation appeared in Leipzig as Schatzkammer, mechanischer Künste..., published by Henning Grossen den Jüngern with the illustrations re-engraved by Andreas Bretschneider. A number of facsimile reprints have appeared since 1970 and in 1976 an English translation was prepared by Martha Teach Gnudi and Eugene S. Ferguson and published jointly by the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Scholar Press” (Brashear).

Adams R-52; Cockle 788; Dibner 173; Mortimer (French) II.452; Norman 1777; Riccardi I.341; Wellcome 5323. Brashear, ‘Ramelli’s Machines: Original drawings of sixteenth century machines’ (sil.si.edu/ondisplay/ramelli/intro.htm). Brun, Le livre français illustré de la renaissance (ed. 1969), p. 280; M.T. Gnudi, ‘Agostino Ramelli and Amrboise Bachot,’ Technology and Culture 15 (1974), pp. 614-25; modern edition and translation, ed. Gnudi & Ferguson (1976).



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.

Item #3694

Price: $225,000.00

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