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GESNER, Konrad (1516-1565)

De raris et admirandis herbis, quæ sive quod noctu luceant, sive alias ob causas, Lunariæ nominantur, Commentariolus: et obiter de alijs etiam rebus quæ in tenebris lucent: inseruntur et icones quædam herbarum novæe: eiusdem descriptio Montis Fracti, sive Montis Pilati, iuxta Lucernam in Helvetia: his accedunt Io. Du Choul G. F. Lugdunensis, Pilati Montis in Gallia Descriptio: Io. Rhellicani Stockhornias, qua Stockhornus mons altissimus in Bernensium Helvetiorum agro, versibus Heroicis describitur.
Tiguri, apud Andream Gesnerum f. & Iacobum Gesnerum, fratres. [1555].

First edition of this rare little book by one of the great polymaths of the Renaissance. Gesner, town physician in Zürich, often left town for excursions. He was one of the first men who climbed mountains not only for the sake of collecting botanical plants, but for the pure enjoyment and exercise, an attitude most unusual for his time. In 1555 he made a botanical excursion to Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne, accompanied with three friends. The expedition recieved a most gracious treatment from the citizens of Lucerne and on entering the town its members were offered the official cup of wine for welcome. The botanical collections and the observations from this trip were published in the same year, together with Gesner’s treatise on the plants supposed to be selflighting at night (Lunaria). The little book, De raris et admirandis herbis (A short commentary on rare and marvellous plants that are called lunar either because they shine at night or for other reasons; and also on other things that shine in darkness) is the first book wholly devoted to luminiscence, describing not only luminous plants but luminous stones and animals. Gesner’s book was reissued with the second edition of Thomas Bartholin’s De luce animalium (1669). The book is remarkable for the glowing description of the beauty and majesty of the Alps and is thought to be not only the first description of its kind but marks the very beginning of Alpinism and the appreciation of nature for its own sake. Gesner describes his ascent of the Gnepfstein (2100 metres). Jean du Choul’s description of Mount Pilatus and Johannes Rhellicanus’ poem of Mount Stockhorn in the Bernese Alps were added since they deal with mountaineering.

Collation: Pp (4), 87, (9). With 7 very fine woodcuts of plants in the text. Last page with Andreas Gesner’s woodcut device.

Binding: Seventeenth century calf, richly gilt spine (worn) with five bands, gilt inner dentelles, marbled endpapers.

Provenance: Old faded signature on title dated 1672.

References: Wellich 37/38.1; Osler 642; E. Newton Harvey, A History of Luminiscence (1957), pp 64-72; Hagelin, Rare and Important, SLS, 21; Alpine Club Library Catalogue, p 127; Bird 1059-60; Parkinson & Lumb 1003. Waller 11514 (íncomplete copy, wrongly dated 1550).

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