Rare, illustrated Wittenberg edition of a core text of mediaeval astronomy, 1561


Johannes SACROBOSCO; Philipp MELANCHTHON (Pref.): LIBELLUS DE / SPHAERA. (…) And: COMPUTUS / ECCLESIASTICUS. (…) 3 parts in 1 volume. With a woodcut spherical globe on the title page and 72 woodcut text illustration. Wittenberg: Krafft 1561.

Johannes SACROBOSCO; Reinhold ERASMUS (d. Ä.); Philipp MELANCHTHON (Pref.): IOHANNIS / DE SACRO BU- /STO LIBELLUS DE / SPHAERA. // ACCESSIT EIVSDEM AUVTORIS COMVTVS EC- /clesiasticus, Et alia quædam in / studiosorum gratiam / edita. // CVM PRÆFATIONE / Philippi Melanthonis. And: LIBELLUS / IONANNIS DE SACRO / BUSTO, de Anni ratione, seu ut / uocatur uulgo, Computus / Ecclesiasticus. // CUM PRAEFATIONE / Philippi Melanthonis. And: THEMATA / QVÆ CONTINENT / METHODICAM TRACTA- / tionem de Horizonte rationali et sensibili (...) 3 parts in 1 volume. With a woodcut spherical globe on the title page, 72 woodcut text illustrations depicting (spheric) globes and other astronomical, astrological, geometrical etc. elements, of which 3 with volvelles (not tipped-in here however), 3 woodcut initials and 4 tables, whereof 2 with multiple fold. Wittenberg: Johann Krafft 1561.

Small-8vo. A-R8 [136] leaves. Woodcut and letterpress, bound in late 19th century half vellum with gilt decorative title printing and marbled boards.

Rare and profusely illustrated Wittenberg edition of this most important compendium of mediaeval astronomy.

Contents: Seminal work in two parts ("Libellus de sphaera" and the appended handbook on chronology "Computus ecclesiasticus") by Joannes de Sacrobosco (c. 1195-1256), professor of astronomy at Paris University, a treatise considered the authoritative astronomical textbook until well into the 17th century. “Sacrobosco’s Sphaera, written in Paris around 1220, enjoyed a long popularity as the leading introduction to spherical astronomy. First printed in 1472, it went through at least a score of editions in the 15th cent. And something over 100 in the 16th cent. Publishing Sacrobosco entered a new and different phase in Wittenberg in 1531. Prior to that year all the editions were folio or quarto, often quite expensive. In 1531 the Lutheran University of Wittenberg apparently sponsored a version cheap enough to become a required textbook for the astronomy course. It is fully illustrated with didactic figures, and comes with a preface in praise of astronomy by Philipp Melanchthon. In 1538 a revised revision appeared: for the first time three of the diagrams incorporated moving parts. This proved to be such a popular feature that virtually every octavo Sacrobosco from the 1540’s on – regardless where printed – included these same identical volvelles." (Gingerich). Also included in present 1561 edition, printed by the famous protestant printer Johann Krafft in Wittenberg, are two folded tables (17,5:23 cm 15,2:24,5 cm), „Tabula continens ingrissum solis“ and „Tabula continens gradus eclipticae“.

Provenance: Handwritten short biography of printer Krafft signed, located and dated „Carl Fried Teschen Böhmen 1888“ as well as owner's stamp „Carl Fried“ on fly leaf recto.

Condition: Volvelles at B7r, B8r and D5v not tipped-in (as unfortunately much too often), first folded table with faults at lower margin affecting the print, title page stained, some pages slightly finger-stained and foxy, several old ink marginals (text and calculations) from different hands, dating probably from 16th and 17th century, front paste-down with printed title label from around 1900, book-block marginally cut to fit the binding, a wide-margined however.

Rarity: Although the moveable parts are missing, present copy is of rare state, for it comes with the prefaces of Melanchthon, which were frequently suppressed by Catholic censors, and also with the undamaged title page, on which Melanchthon's name was often blackened. This copy also includes the two often lacking blanks at the end, i.e. has 136 leaves instead of only 134. VD16 locates 6 copies of present 1561 edition at Budapest (Szécheny), Dresden (SLUB), Freiburg/Breisgau (UB), Göttingen (SUB), Munich (BSB) and Wolfenbüttel (HAB).

Reference: VD16 J 730; Zinner 2271; Houzeau-Lancaster 1653; O. Gingerich: »Sacrobosco as a textbook«, in: History of Astronomy XIX (1988), p. 269-273.