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Sumptuously bound for the author for presentation to G.P. Oliva, Superior General of the Jesuit Society, on Royal paper.

KIRCHER, Athanasius.
Ars magna sciendi, in XII libros digesta, qua nova & universali methodo ... [vol. 2 half-title:] Artis magnae seu combinatoriae sciendi, ... [titles on the frontispieces:] Ars magna sciendi sive combinatoria [vol. 1] Artis magnae combinatoriae [vol. 2].
Amsterdam, Johannes Janssonius van Waesberge and the widow of Elizaeus Weyerstraten, 1669. 2 volumes bound as 1. Royal folio (46 x 30 x 5.5 cm). With 2 richly engraved allegorical frontispieces, an engraved plate with a full-page portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, an engraved plate showing all knowledge of the universe organised as a tree, 2 engraved volvelles (with 4 rotating dials), 20 further engravings on integral leaves and a couple dozen woodcut figures in the text. Contemporary richly gold-tooled red goatskin morocco decorated a petit fers, gold-tooled turn-ins, board edges and raised bands, giving a total of more than 1500 impressions of about 14 stamps and 3 rolls, edges gilt over red and blue squiggles. Janssonius van Waesberge, who published Kircher's books in Amsterdam from 1664/65 to 1682, arranged to have copies of several luxuriously bound for Kircher to present to leading figures and this is almost certainly one of them, presented to Giovanni Paolo Oliva, Superior General of the Jesuit Society. [18], 482, [10] pp. (including 2 integral frontispieces), plus 4 inserted tables & 2 plates.
€ 50,000
First edition of a seventeenth-century attempt to organise all knowledge of the universe into a classified system with nine primary categories (represented by icons made for the present edition) and to discover an underlying universal language, the most ambitious work (and one of the most extensive) of the great eccentric Jesuit genius Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680): a bizarre mixture of philosophy, science, religion and fantasy.
On 29 July 1661 Kircher contracted to have the Amsterdam bookseller Johannes Janssonius van Waesberge (1616/17-1681) publish his books including new editions of some previously published works as well as works he had not yet written. Kircher also had Van Waesberghe arrange for some copies of the books to be luxuriously bound for presentation to various luminaries.
No expense was spared to produce the present binding and it bears the owner's inscription of Giovanni Paolo Oliva (1600-1681), Superior General of the Jesuit Society, who granted the privileges for both volumes. He is an obvious candidate for a presentation copy. Moreover, the binding is nearly identical, using the same tools in a nearly identical arrangement, as that of the Morgan Library's copy of the same edition. So a single binder made at least two virtually identical and extremely luxurious bindings for the same edition, strongly supporting the notion that they were made for Kircher's presentation copies.
In a 1948 Sotheby's catalogue, Anthony Hobson attributes the binding of the copy now at the Morgan Library to the most famous Dutch binder of all time, Albert(us) Magnus (1642-1689), Miner merely notes his attribution and the Library still attributes it to Magnus, but Nixon, discussing other Kircher books bound by Magnus, writes "I am less certain that ... the Ars magna sciendi in the Landau-Finaly sale ... does come from the same workshop", De la Fontaine Verwey calls the attribution to Magnus "doubtful" and Foot writes that the binding "is decorated ... with closely massed tools, which I have not found on any other Dutch binding of the period".
High quality Dutch bindings in richly gold-tooled morocco from the 1660s to the 1690s were once almost invariably attributed to Magnus, but Foot distinguishes about a dozen different Dutch workshops finishing bindings in this style and notes that some "show the same high level of craftsmanship and are decorated with tools very closely similar to those used by" Magnus. The fact that few of these groups of bindings have so far been linked to named bookbinders takes nothing away from the quality of the work. The present binding represents a workshop of the highest order that has so far been barely studied, and its large number of tools, with more than 1500 impressions of about 14 stamps and 3 rolls, gives a good overview of the workshop's equipment. The paper is of Royal format, probably indicating a large-paper copy, since many copies seem to be 37 to 40 cm tall.
With the contemporary owner's inscription of Giovanni Paolo Oliva at the foot of the title-page and the armorial bookplate of the Bibliotheca Philosophia Hermetica in Amsterdam. Browned and foxed as usual, a few leaves severely, with the ink of both the letterpress text and the engravings sometimes leaving a browned offset or showing through on the reverse, but otherwise in good condition. The foot of the spine has a crack in the front hinge and a few worm holes and repaired tears in the backstrip (all in the lowest 4 cm); the head of the spine also has a few worm holes but only minor damage. The binding is otherwise in very good condition, with only minor scuff marks around the extremities and with nearly all of the tooling clear and well-preserved. The turn-ins have browned the outer edges of the marbled paste-downs, and the free endleaves are more severely browned than the leaves of the book itself. De Backer & Sommervogel IV, cols. 1066-1067 (Kircher 28); Breslauer cat. 107 [1984?], p. 188 (the present copy); Caillet 5771; Dünnhaupt, Bibliogr. Handbuch, Kircher 23; Ferguson I, p. 467; Findlen, Athanasius Kircher, pp. 7, 35, 83-85 & passim; Fletcher, Athanasius Kircher (2011), pp. 415-417 , 495, 557-558 & 567 (no. 24); Honeyman 1827 (incompl.); Merrill, Athanasius Kircher 22 (2 copies, 1 lacking 1st frontispiece & 1 lacking portrait); Thorndike VII, p. 567; for the Morgan Library copy in a nearly identical binding: H. de la Fontaine Verwey, "The binder Albert Magnus ...", in Quaerendo, 1 (1971), pp. 158-178, at p. 163, note 3; Mirjam Foot, Henry Davis gift I (1978), p.246; Dorothy Miner/Walters Art Gallery, History of bookbinding (1957) 434 (ill.); Howard Nixon, Broxbourne Library (1956), p. 154; Sotheby's London, 13 July 1948 (Baron Horace de Landau coll.), lot 69; Sotheby's London, 13 March 1956 (J.W. Hely-Hutchinson coll.), lot 391 (ill.); for Van Waesberge: Van Eeghen, De Amsterdamse boekhandel IV, pp. 257-163.
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Related Subjects:

Art, architecture & photography  >  Art & Art History
Book history, education, learning & printing  >  Bindings
Low countries  >  Amsterdam | Book History, Education & Printing
Religion & devotion  >  Jesuits
Science & technology  >  Alchemy, Astrology & Occult | Science