Venice: Bariletto, 1561. Two parts in one. 8vo. [viii], 152; [viii], 152 leaves (A1 of first part misbound following title and before table of contents). FIRST EDITION. Each part with separate title. Woodcut printer’s device of “Prudence” with the motto Prudentia negotium non fortuna ducat on each title and full-page on verso of last leaf of each part, woodcuts historiated initials, text woodcut illustration of an alchemical instrument (sigilla hermetis), contemporary manuscripts notes. Contemporary vellum, a bit worn, with faint notes on covers; some browning and minor staining. Manuscript note on second title that suggests that Rossello is an alias for D. Panizza of Venice (?). Also of interest is the different spelling of Venice, “Venegia” on the first title and “Venetia” on the second. Item #16003
RENAISSANCE BOOK OF SECRETS - - GENDER OF WRITER QUESTIONED. First edition, extremely rare, of this important and enigmatic treatise of alchemical, pharmaceutical and herbal formulas containing almost every remedy and new mode of therapy for illness as well as the ability to remain in good health. Among the topics described are recipes for plague amulets to aphrodisiacs and formulas from lip balm to paint pigments and cleaning teeth. In addition to the many other beauty treatments, the second book illustrates how to prepare “special waters” used to heal a variety of diseases. Noteworthy is the author’s description of his preparation of camphor, quicksilver and sulfur to make a universal medicine. Of special interest (especially given the question of the gender of the writer) is the formula for a mixture of quail testicles, large winged ants, musk, and amber to treat erectile dysfunction.
Little is known about the author and this work. In the same year the present book was published, Isabella Cortese, an Italian writer and alchemist, published I secreti della signora Isabella Cortese (The secrets of Lady Isabella Cortese), same printer, same printer’s device, and very similar text. Both works contain instructions on the preparation of practical items such as toothpaste, soap and cosmetics; both contain the same directions on the “universal medicine”; and both have the same section on erectile dysfunction. Three men, Bariletto, Curtio Troiano di Navò and Mario Caboga, can all be connected to both works. Bariletto was a printer who came to Venice from the Riviera di Salò on Lake Garda around 1550; di Navò, his brother-in-law and described as a “book merchant,” applied in 1560 for the required privileges to print both works; Chaboga, the Archdeacon of Ragusa, was the dedicatee of both works. No extended information has been found on Isabella Cortese and her life; all that is known is her book of secrets. It has been questioned whether Cortese was a pseudonym for Rossello (or whoever Rossello actually was), as the possibility might exist for increased sales based on a female author. Alternatively, it could be that Rossello was a pseudonym used by Cortese (or whoever she actually was). The manuscript note indicating an alias of Rossello puts everything into question; the only Panizza we could locate was the printer Valente Panizza (fl. 1562-1572). Both books were reprinted numerous times over the following hundred years.