Historia Naturalis by Johannes Jonstonus
In the exciting field of collections and particularly in that of facsimile collections, Siloé, Arte y Bibliofilia offers one of the richest collections in the field of Natural History and related subjects.
The Historia Naturalis by Johannes Jonstonus is considered to be the last great Renaissance encyclopaedia on this fascinating subject.
It truly represents one of the most outstanding efforts in human history to delve into the marvellous and often mysterious world of Nature, and to compile all the vast and dispersed knowledge that had lay dispersed in this discipline for centuries.
Siloé’s facsimile edition of the seven splendid volumes of this Historia Naturalis is one of the most ambitious publishing projects ever undertaken in the field of facsimiles.
It should also be borne in mind that the original of this work is regarded by historians as one of the greatest efforts in human history to delve into the marvellous and mysterious natural world.
Its author, Johannes Jonstonus, is a man who is described as of rich and versatile personality, for in addition to being a physician he was also a philosopher, historian, linguist, etc., and he produced one of history’s greatest compilations of knowledge on this subject.
The enormous importance of this beautiful collection is attested to by the fact that for almost 200 years, several of his different treatises – and especially that of de Avibus – were a compulsory reference in many of the most prestigious Central European universities of the period, especially in Germany. Not to mention Japan, a country in which Jonstonus’ Historia Naturalis not only “triumphed” and spread, but also became the only source of knowledge on the development of this science, natural history, in the West.
This ambitious treatise on nature has the added value of its exceptional artistic beauty. Indeed, its extensive iconographic array represents one of the most beautiful and innovative efforts to endow a work of this genre with all the didactic power of engravings, which here reaches one of its most vibrant expressions.
Its seven splendid facsimile volumes plus six volumes of complementary studies constitute one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. It is worth highlighting the enormous added value provided by these complementary volumes, as in addition to the suggestive analyses by great experts that they contain, they incorporate the first Spanish version of the text of this work, of which there were already multiple versions in several languages a long time ago.
Limited edition of 898 numbered copies, with the corresponding notarial certificate. Beautiful handmade leather binding and preservation box.
Each of its treatises, as it was published, has received the corresponding National Prize from the Ministry of Culture for the best facsimile book published in Spain.
Jonstonus devoted 15 absorbing years of his life to this macro-project in which he compiles all human knowledge from Aristotle to Pliny the Elder, passing through Albert the Great and even Marco Polo, although his two great references, which were almost contemporaries, were Aldrovandi and Gesner.
Although his work is not that of a pure researcher-innovator, Jonstonus was an astute analyst and synthesiser of this past knowledge and, convinced as he was that the dissemination of knowledge of nature was a powerful weapon for the education of youth, he believed that its dissemination would contribute vigorously to the advent of a more balanced and harmonious society.
As we have noted above, the other great attraction that has always been emphasised in the work of Jonstonus is its extraordinary artistic richness, as the great Matthäus Merian the Younger provided here one of the most complete and valuable iconographic ensembles in the animal world. It is true that, as has also been said, Matthäus Merian was of course inspired by earlier treatises, and that the extraordinary saga of several generations of Merian artists catapulted him to the pinnacle of engraving. And it is not surprising that this was the case, as it is known that this family’s artistic environment was so powerful that even the engravings of Rembrandt himself were clearly influenced by it.
Nor should we forget the enormous value for the future artistic projection of the young Matthäus of his stay in 1639 in the London workshop of the great Van Dyck, as well as his visit to the most famous printmaking workshops of the time in Paris and Italy. All of this not only does not tarnish, but rather reinforces even more the extraordinary skill of the young Matthäus, who was able to provide these images with the status of true and proper works of art.
All this imposing graphic apparatus was to be very useful for the humanist ideals of Jonstonus who, with this support, would try to establish his particular universal educational utopia. The evocative power of engravings was to be for him a powerful weapon of literacy and dissemination of all this natural knowledge. Without the help of engravings, it would have been difficult for him to achieve the great repercussions that his work achieved. It would also have been difficult for him to have seen the many editions and translations of his work into the most widely used languages of the period.
Undoubtedly, from today’s perspective, the work of Jonstonus may seem somewhat obsolete in many respects, but this is not the right perspective from which to evaluate a work dating from almost four centuries ago, since in its day it represented a gigantic effort of synthesis and transmission of the knowledge accumulated until then by mankind. We cannot overlook the author’s etymological, narrative and taxonomical care, nor his constant concern for a meticulous and scrupulous description of the medical properties of the different animal substances and their possibilities for the pharmacopoeia of the time.
The ability of the people of the time to replace the absence of more advanced medical and pharmaceutical knowledge with a more experimental and intuitive knowledge of nature is astonishing. In this respect, it is worth mentioning an anecdote that tells us that any inhabitant of northern Europe who was struck by an intense pain in the middle of the forest would not hesitate to seek a remedy by cutting the bark of a willow tree and drinking its liquid, without even imagining that a few centuries later, laboratories would extract acetylsalicylic acid from the same bark to make our current aspirin.
Jonstonus had the enormous merit of many of the greatest authors of Antiquity and the Middle Ages, namely: to contribute powerfully to keep the interest in Natural Sciences alive and to eloquently transmit to us the knowledge accumulated until then. It is also our intention, in publishing this enormous work, to ensure that the flame of this interest for nature lives on and that the edifying work of naturalists of the stature of Johannes Jonstonus does not leave our memory. As we wrote when we published the first volume of the collection, de Avibus, he was a good man, in the most literal and positive sense of the term, who longed for a more learned and wiser world, and who was convinced that a greater and better knowledge of the order prevailing in the animal kingdom should effectively promote the advent of a new age of human harmony.
Today, when all the facsimiles in the collection have been published and, as we noted above, we can be proud that all of them, have received the National Prize of the Ministry of Culture for the best book published in the facsimile category as they were published. it is time to reiterate what we said when we faced this great challenge: we would like to take up Jonstonus’ task and vow for the advent of a fairer, more fraternal and happier world. We are convinced that the dissemination of all the beauty contained in this work will promote and accelerate this process.