• Valuable Manuscripts and Print auction at Christies

    Sale 1160

    Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books

    20 November 2013, London, King Street

  • Lot 110

    COPERNICUS, Nicolaus (1473-1543). De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI. Nuremberg: Johann Petreius, 1543.

    Price Realised  


    COPERNICUS, Nicolaus (1473-1543). De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI. Nuremberg: Johann Petreius, 1543.

    4° (260 x 186mm). Collation: \kp\K6(+1) a-z4 A-Z4 Aa-Cc4. 203 leaves, WITH THE RARE ERRATA PRINTED ON THE VERSO OF AN ADDITIONAL TITLE. 148 woodcut diagrams, tables of calculations, ornamental woodcut initials in part attributed to Hans Sebald Beham. (Light dampstain in last two quires, tiny hole in n2-4, some light browning, small corner section of first title renewed.) 18th-century speckled calf, gilt spine, marbled endpapers, speckled edges, a remboitage with later spine labels (some staining on rear board). Provenance: Asti,Italy, Leonardo Botallo (c.1519-1587/88), medical doctor (inscriptions on second title and first text leaf, the first deleted, marginal annotations); Orléans, Jean Robert (d.1590, professor of law, inscription 'Johannis Roberti Aurelii' deleted from first title); 'G.D' (initials on first title); Louis Godin (1704-1760, inscription 'Godin 1725' on both titles); marginal annotations (trimmed) in possibly four hands, one of which is Botallo's, the others the book's later owners; stamp removed from first title, a1, and c3. FIRST EDITION OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATION OF THE 16TH CENTURY AND A 'LANDMARK IN HUMAN THOUGHT' (PMM). De revolutionibus placed for the first time the sun at the centre of the universe and described the earth's diurnal rotation and its annual rotation around the sun. Copernicus denounced the geocentric belief in the immobility of the earth as based on mere appearance. In order even to entertain an idea such as a heliocentric universe Copernicus had to break with virtually all current knowledge: astronomical, metaphysical, theological and, most basically, simple sensory perception. The geocentric system of Ptolemy had held sway for over a millennium, and theological dogma considered geocentrism as the very foundation of the special relationship between God and man. Aware of the radical nature of his theory, Copernicus composed an introduction in which he attempted to trace historical antecedents for his basic tenets. He cites antecedents for the mobility of the earth in Pythagoras and Heraclides and for the earth's revolution around the sun in Aristarchus. While these antecedents provided a handy defence for Copernicus, it is unlikely that they played any signifcant role in developing his theory (cf. Gingerich, Eye of Heaven, 1993). The Church in fact never officially condemned Copernicus's work as heretical, in part because its observations were essential to reform of the calendar and thus to the precise determination of Easter. Copernicus first made known his ideas on heliocentrism in manuscript form only, which he circulated among a few colleagues. His radical work came to the attention of a young mathematician and astronomer, Georg Joachim Rheticus, who became the chief advocate of Copernicus's new theory. Rheticus persuaded Copernicus to allow him to announce in print a summary of heliocentrism in 1540 (De libris revolutionum ... Nicolai Copernici ... narratio prima), and eventually to publish Copernicus's work in full, De revolutionibus. Having read Rheticus's Narratio, the Nuremberg printer Johann Petreius applied for the privilege to publish Copernicus's work at his own expense and risk. Rheticus duly delivered Copernicus's manuscript to Petreius in 1542 and acted as editor and proof-reader. When Rheticus left Nuremberg to take up a professorship at Leipzig, Andreas Osiander took over responsibility for proofreading. Apparently fearful of a violent reaction against the work by the Church, Osiander wrote a prefatory address to the reader in which he attempted to placate in advance critics of Copernicus's theory. Since a finished copy of the De revolutionibus only reached Copernicus on the eve of his death, his reaction to this addition is unknown, but Rheticus and other Copernican disciples found it reprehensible. Several copies survive in which the address (and the last words of the title 'orbium coelestium', probably also a late addition by Osiander) is crossed through by Rheticus; Kepler denounced the address as the work of Osiander in 1609 in the introduction to his Astronomia nova (cf. Gingerich, Eye of Heaven). In his census of the De revolutionibus Professor Owen Gingerich lists 277 copies of the first edition, of which only ca. 20 are in private hands. The high survival rate (Gingerich surmises an edition size of 400-500) owes much to its specialised audience who held the book in esteem. The present copy contains the rare errata leaf, which is present in only about 80 of the surviving copies, found either conjugate with the title-page, bound in as a single leaf or, as here (and in only 30 other copies), printed on the verso of a repeated title-page. De revolutionibus was owned by many celebrated astronomers and illustrious scholars: Zarlino, Bruno, Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, Mästlin. The present copy was also owned by a succession of learned men, beginning, soon after the work's publication, with the noted physician Leonardo Botallo. Having trained at the university at Pavia and Padua, in part under Gabriele Falloppio, Botallo joined the French forces in Italy and was in Paris as physician to Charles IX by 1560. He remained a doctor at the French court, where he was a favourite of his compatriot Catherine de' Medici. His anatomical observations are today remembered in nomenclature through Botallo's duct (ductus arteriosus) and Botallo's foramen (foramen ovale cordis). Botallo's copy of De revolutionibus then passed to Jean Robert, a distinguished professor of law at Orleans, noted for his public disputes with Jacques Cujas. The book's next identifiableowner was the French astronomer, Louis Godin. Godin was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1725 at the age of 21. His astronomical work concerned the aurora borealis, the preparation of astronomical tables, and observations on the lunar eclipse of 1732. Godin led an expedition to Peru for the Academy to determine the shape of the earth, stopping in London on his way, where he consulted Edmond Halley and was accepted into the Royal Society (cf. DSB 5, pp.434-6). Interestingly, Godin also owned a copy of the second edition of De Revolutionibus, currently in the Dibner collection housed at M.I.T. (cf. Gingerich Census). The initials 'G.D.' on the title-page remain unidentified. THE DE REVOLUTIONIBUS IS 'THE EARLIEST OF THE THREE BOOKS OF SCIENCE THAT MOST CLARIFIED THE RELATIONSHIP OF MAN AND HIS UNIVERSE (ALONG WITH NEWTON'S PRINCIPIA AND DARWIN'S ORIGIN OF SPECIES)' (Dibner 3). Adams C-2602; Joseph Shipman, 'Johannes Petreius: Nuremberg Publisher of Scientific Works, 1524-1550,' Homage to a Bookman, Essays ... for Hans P. Kraus, Berlin: 1967, pp.147-162; Dibner, Heralds of Science, 3; Gingerich, An Annotated Census of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus, I.192 and passim; Horblit 18b; Houzeau and Lancaster 2503; Stillwell, Awakening 47; PMM 70.

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