JF Ptak Science Books Post 1429
Robert Fludd’s (1574-1637), title page for his Utriusque Cosmi . . . Historia (1617) features this complicated astrological wheel with a Vitruvian-man-like image at the vortex of the imaged pulls and pushes of the cosmos. In addition to everything else, real and imagined, Rosicrucianism and astrology and puffy-birds, Fludd, who was an English physician, delved deeply into the real stuff of the world in this book in addition to all of the other make-believe--optics, the musical intervals, perspective drawing, hydraulic engineering, construction of lifting machines, military engineering and many other interesting, physical science topics. But this drawing, right there on the title page, reveals Fludd’s real interests and shows what governs what he does. Everything else, the math and and the physics, services this need. Of course the image is beautiful, which is why it is here, but it is also a deeply personal, exploitative, cover-all for the things that Fludd *wanted* to find.
I can't resist adding the following Fludd image, which appears in the same book and may be one of the most iconic images of the Fludd opus, these beautiful circles showing the areas of thought and consciousness of the human being:
(2) Wheels of Forture
In Le Passetemps de la Fortune des dez, written by Lorenzo Spirito in the late 15th century1 and published in this pictured format in 1559--a delightful little book with many2 zodical illustrations and the first printed illustrated book on fortune-telling—appears this gorgeous wheel of fortune wood engraving.
“There are 20 questions, grouped around a wheel of fortune on which are represented four men; to each man a reference is added to a list of kings… These 20 kings in their turn guide the enquired to 20 planets; the table of dice casts attached to these planet contain 56 references to the 20 spheres of the planets. After one has found their way through these stages, they finally reach 20 prophets who each have 56 three-line answers to give….”
The wheel sends the reader to a king; the king to a sign; the sign, with a throw of dice, to a wheel; the wheel to a prophet, and then to the peek into the future.
Referring to the image below: “In this opening, the leopard (left) is cut in a thick outline and modeled with precise curved lines. The leopard's formal pose is particularly appealing because it projects a dignity commensurate with the animal's position in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. The dolphin (right) is similarly cut and set within a sea of curved lines against a well-defined architectural background. The dolphin's design reflects classical
origins. The animal projects an aggressive attitude, suggesting the dolphin's importance as protector of the city of Venice. The well-designed woodcut borders of the hunt (left) and the putti at play (right) are symbols of the vagaries of life, in which good fortune and calamity are equally possible.
(3) Wheels of Destiny 2
In Sigismondo Fanti’s Triompho di Fortuna (Triumph of Fortune), printed in Venice in 1526, the second illustrated fortune-telling book to appear in print. Fanti's book, like Spirito’s, functions as a game in which the seeker follows cues that lead from figures of Fortune to houses and then to wheels, spheres, and astrologers, the path determined by either a throw of the dice or the time of day at which the book is consulted.
“When the reader reaches the indicated page, a choice must be made between two wheels. The upper one represents all the possible combinations (twenty-one) to result from a throw of the dice, while the lower is bordered by the first twenty-one hours of the day. If no dice are handy\—and it's not too late at night\—the seeker can turn to the lower wheel and choose the segment that corresponds to the current hour.”
“The pages representing wheels are bordered by eight alternating frames containing a series of musicians, astronomers, artists, writers, popes, rulers, and other distinguished figures of the past and present, labeled differently at each appearance. Among the artists named are Andrea Mantegna, Raphael of Urbino, and Baldassare Peruzzi, the designer of the frontispiece. On the page shown here, at right, the astronomer and artist are identified respectively as the book's author, Sigismondo Fanti, and the painter Dosso Dossi (died 1542), who was also from Ferrara and who has been plausibly credited with the design of the figural borders.”
1. Lorenzoi Spirito's book was very popular, going into at least five printings in the 15th century alone following the first printed edition of 1482. Fortune-telling works such as this were extremely popular and well-used--so much so that it has led experts in this area to conclude that the books were basically worn out of existence, which might explain why so few of them have survived to the present day.
2.Description of the Spirito book from Christie's auction house: 38 leaves. Roman type. 56 lines and headline. 2 woodcut full borders (one incorporating Da Ponte device) repeated to 6 impressions, full-page woodcut wheel of fortune, 20 woodcut portraits of kings from 15 blocks printed 4 to a page, 20 pages of dice throws with 20 woodblocks of signs, 20 circular woodcuts of signs within wheel of text set within one of two borders, 20 portraits of prophets and other Biblical figures."