Pietro Andrea Mattioli. Commentarii in Libros Sex Pedacii Dioscoridis. Venice: Ex Officina Valgrisiana, 1565. Gift of Ethelinda Schaefer Castle ’08.






During the sixteenth century the study of natural history was practiced primarily by those with a professional interest in the subject, particularly physicians or apothecaries. One of the most influential of these physicians was the Italian Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501-1577), whose massive herbal encyclopedia based on the work of the ancient Greek herbalist Dioscorides was first published in 1544 and brought him to the attention of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, and Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor. With their patronage, he was able to expand his work through communication with other scientists located throughout the Habsburg territories, and draw upon the increasing knowledge of plant species discovered in the Americas. The comprehensiveness of his work made the Commentarii an indispensable source for physicians and apothecaries, and it went through more than forty editions. The volume in the Darwin’s Ancestors exhibit was published in Venice in 1565 and was amongst the first issued with a new set of larger and higher-quality woodcuts, the work of the Italian Giorgio Liberale of Udine and the German Wolfgang Meyerpeck.    


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