PLINIUS SECUNDUS, Gaius (23-79). Historia naturalis, in Italian. Translated from Latin by Cristoforo Landino (1424-1492). Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1476.
2 volumes, super-royal 2o (411 x 274 mm). Collation: [1-2110 22-268 27-3510 3610(36/10+1) 378 3810 398 40-4110 428 4310 (1/1 blank, 1/2r translator's dedication to Ferrante, King of Naples, 1/5v blank, 1/6r Pliny's dedication, 1/7v table of contents, 3/1v blank, 3/2r text, 43/9v colophon, 43/10 blank)]. 413 leaves (of 415, without the first and last blanks). 50 lines. Types: 1:115(111)R; 115Gk (occasional words). Spaces for initials with guide letters. Illuminated by a contemporary Italian artist: opening text page (3/2r) decorated with three-quarter border of swirling foliage and blossoms with gold bezants and penwork flourishes, at bottom the wreath-enclosed coat-of-arms of a member of the Zancaruolo family (extenders of lower border shaved, half of escutcheon oxidized); 11-line historiated initial showing the white-bearded author holding a book and an astrolabe; 13-line preface initial, 6-line prohemio initial, and 35 10- or 11-line book initials (the initial to book 33 omitted), all antiqua initials in gold leaf on pink, green and blue grounds with delicate white or yellow filigree infill (small rubbed area to first initial). 2-line antiqua chapter initials in alternating red and blue (many of the blue initials faded from washing, about 20 sheets more heavily washed leaving mere faint traces of the initials). Two pinholes preserved in outer corners of many leaves. The volumes divided between 23/7 and 23/8 (books 18 and 19). (Neatly repaired tear to first leaf of text [3/2] crossing illuminated border, last leaf [43/9] damaged and repaired affecting a few words on verso, small marginal repair to first leaf, tiny tear to fol. 3/2, repaired marginal tear to 10/5, filled wormhole in 8/7-8 affecting 2 letters in 8/8 neatly touched up in ink, some light mostly marginal foxing.)
Binding: 19th-century French dark blue straight-grained morocco gold tooled to a sober neo-classical design, sides panelled with triple gold fillets enclosing diaper and palmette rolls in blind, an inner panel of a single gold fillet framing gilt cornerpiece tools in gold and a different blind palmette roll, spines divided into six blind-and gold-tooled compartments, the second and sixth compartments lettered in gold, board edges gilt, turn-ins decorated with blind roll and gilt fillets, edges gilt, marbled endpapers, paper outer flyleaves, vellum inner flyleaves, by RENé SIMIER, with his gilt stamp "Simier R[elieur]. du Roi" in lower compartment of spine of Vol. I (a few nicks and scratches to covers, trifling wear at corners and extremities of spines, inner hinges cracked).
Provenance: Zancaruolo family of Venice (illuminated arms) -- Edward Herbert, Second Earl of Powis (1785-1848) (signature noting year of purchase 1841 on versos of front free endpapers of both volumes).
FIRST EDITION IN ITALIAN AND FIRST VERNACULAR EDITION. Pliny the Elder's only extant work, the Historia naturalis was the first important scientific text to appear in print (Venice: de Spira, 1469). "A strange combination of insight, erudition, and folktales" (Stillwell Science, 684), Pliny's vast encyclopaedia set forth by his own count 20,000 facts compiled from over 100 sources (the index in fact lists 34,707 "observations" from 473 different authors). Described by Pliny the Younger as "a diffuse and learned work, no less rich in variety than nature itself" (III.5.6), it remained authoritative well into the modern period. Certain sections, notably those on materia medica and the arts and crafts, contain the best or earliest surviving accounts of the practices of Antiquity. All of the 18 recorded incunable editions were printed in Italy.
The most influential book to issue from Jenson's press, Landino's translation of Pliny is also the most thoroughly documented. Documents preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Florence show that the powerful Florentine banking family of the Strozzi commissioned the translation and financed the edition (cf. F. Edler de Roover, "Storia dell'arte della stampa in Italia: come furono stampati a Venezia tre dei primi libro in volgare", La Bibliofilia 55 (1953):107-115). The accounts of the firm of Filippo and Lorenzo Strozzi record payments in early 1476 of 50 ducats to Landino for his work, and of 731 ducats for 86 bales of paper -- a figure that confirms the huge recorded press-run of over 1,000 copies on paper and 20 or so on vellum. Girolamo Strozzi and Giovambattista Ridolfi, a Florentine expatriate and associate of the enterprise, remained in Venice for the duration of the printing, which must have been completed by the end of the summer: by 20 September Ridolfi had received 1003 copies. The Strozzi accounts also reveal their direct involvement in the distribution of the edition, copies of which they had shipped to various cities throughout Italy and as far north as London and Bruges.
An unusually large number of surviving copies, both vellum and paper, of Jenson's 1472 Latin and 1476 Italian editions of Pliny were richly illuminated, mostly in various Venetian ateliers. The comparatively simple decoration of the present copy is probably also Venetian.
H 13105*; BMC V, 176 (IC. 19694); CIBN P-469; Flodr, Plinius Maior A.20; Harvard/Walsh 1583; IGI 7893; Lowry 48 and pp. 129-132; Pr 4099; Goff P-801.