Ferrante Imperato, 1599

Ferrante Imperato, 1599

Image 1


Title: Dell'historia naturale / di Ferrante Imperato ... Libri XXVIII. Nella qvale ordinatamente si tratta della diuersa condition di miniere, e pietre. Con alcune historie di piante, ed animali; sin'hora non date in luce.

Author: Imperato, Ferrante, 1550-1625. Imprint: Napoli : C. Vitale, 1599. Physical description: 12 unnumbered leaves, 791 pages, double plate : woodcuts (one double-page), illustrations (folio). Source: Wellcome Library, shelfmark D 3393/D; system no. b12953945. Licence: CC BY 4.0. Digitalcopy of complete work: https://archive.org/details/gri_c00033125008260594


Image 2

Title: Historia naturale di Ferrante Imperato napolitano nella quale ordinatamente si tratta della diversa condition di minere, pietre pretiose, ed altre curiosità. Con varie historie di piante, ed animali, sin'hora non date in luce / [Ferrante Imperato].

Imprint: Venice: Presso Combi, & la Noù, 1672. Edition: In questa seconda impressione aggiontoui da Gio. Maria Ferro spetiale alla sanità alcune annotationi alle piante nel libro vigesimo ottavo ... Physical description: 8 unnumbered pages, 696 pages, 8 unnumbered pages, 1 unnumbered folded leaf of plates (engr.) : title page in red & black with engr. vignette, woodcuts, illustrations ; (folio); engraved t.p. vignette; ca. 125 woodcuts, copies of those in the original ed., depicting minerals and rocks, marine organisms, plants, snakes and insects. Signatures: [cross]⁴ A-3M⁶, a⁴. Source: Wellcome Library, shelfmark  C  29926/C/1; System no. b13064290; Licence: CC BY 4.0. From .

Commentary. In reproducing the engraving for the 1672 edition, the image has been inverted.

Ferrante Imperato (1525-1615) was a Neapolitan apothecary. Imperato’s cabinet shows that the vogue of collecting spread from princes to the middle class, and particularly to apothecaries and physicians. It became linked with the passion for natural history developing in the period and with the overseas trade of unusual objects. This image is the first one to depict a cabinet of curiosities. It is the frontispiece of Imperato's book On Natural History (Dell' historia naturale), which aimed to present a learned vision of the world patterned on the tradition of Pliny the Elder, who wrote De naturalis historia in late antiquity. The publication doubles as a catalogue, but it is more than that: it seeks to present a coherent view of the world. Of Imperato’s twenty-eight books, nine books were devoted to alchemy, while the rest paid attention to mining, animals and plant specimens.

The image shows Imperato’s son Francesco presenting the collection, while Ferrante himself stands aside, revelling in the amazed reactions of the visitors.

Further reading.

P. Findlen, ‘Why put a museum in a book? Ferrante Imperato and the image of natural history in sixteenth-century Naples.’ Journal of the History of Collections 33, no. 3, (2021), 419–433, https://doi.org/10.1093/jhc/fhab004