Hernández, Francisco (1514-1587)

Rervm Medicarvm Novæ Hispaniæ thesavrvs, Sev Plantarvm, Animalivm, Mineralivm Mexicanorvm Historia ex Francisci Hernandez Noui Orbis Medici Primarij Relationibus in ipsa Mexicana Vrbe conscriptis a Nardo Antonio Reccho Monte Coruinate Cath. Maiest. Medico et Neap. Regni Archiatro Generali Jussu Philippi II Hisp. Ind. etc. Regis Collecta ac in ordinem digesta a Ioanne Terrentio Lynceo Constantiense Germo. Phõ ac Medico Notis Illustrata Nunc Primū in Naturaliū Rer. 3267_1Studiosor Gratiā Lucubrationibus Lynceorū publici iuris facta. Quibus Jam excussis accessere dernum alia quor. omnium synopsis sequenti pagina ponitur Opus duobus voluminibus diuisum Philippo IIII Regi Catholico Magno Hispaniar Vtriusq Siciliæ et Indiaurũ etc. Monarchæ dictatum. Cum Priuilegiis.

Rome: Superior permissu. Ex Typographeio Vitalis Mascardi, 1651

Two Folio Volumes bound as one: 32 x 22 cm. [36], 1-455, [456, blank, unnumbered], 457-464, [2 unnumbered pp.], 459-468, 469-840, [841-842], 843-846, 845-846, 847-899, [1, bank], [901-902], 903-904, 903-904, 905-950, [2], [20], 1-90, [6] pp. With the engraved and the letterpress title pages. Collation: 1 [engraved t.p.], †4, a-b2, A-Z6, Aa-Pp6, an added signature Qq4 (p. 457-464 with the 3rd leaf signed Qq2), original signature Qq6 (half-title, unsigned and unnumbered), p. 459-468), Rr-Zz6, Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Bbbb6 (plus additional leaf Bbbb3 (p. 845/846, dedication to F. Cesi), Cccc-Ffff6, Gggg6 (plus an additional leaf Gggg2 (p. 903-904, dedication to Roderic de Mendoza). Leaf Gggg is a folded table; Hhhh6 (plus an added leaf after Hhhh2 (“Append. ad pag. 917/918”), Iiii-Kkkk6, Llll2, b-c4, D2; A-M4

FIRST LATIN EDITION, THIRD ISSUE (1st 1628). In this copy the original dedications to Cardinal Barberini are both preserved and the new dedications to F. Cesi and Roderic de Mendoza have been added (See Hunt and notes below.)


The engraved t.p. by Frederic Greuter depicts six Native Americans flanking the title, which is surmounted by the royal Spanish coat of arms of Philip II, III, and IV and surrounded by the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Below, two putti display the draped title; at the bottom is a small map of Mexico. There are approximately 800 woodcut text illustrations of New World flora and fauna; head-pieces, initials, side notes.

A fantastic copy of this beautiful book, bound in a dated contemporary (1663) binding of alum-tawed pigskin over wooden boards with two working clasps. The boards are paneled in blind and feature decorative scrolling vine-work and interlocking sheaves of wheat. The large central compartment has a blind-stamped arabesque with the gilt arms of Placidus Buechauer (1644-1669) abbot of Kremsmünster Abbey in Upper Austria, at the center. Aside from some occasional mild browning, a very fine, crisp, and bright copy. Excellent.

3267_5The “Rervm Medicarvm Novæ Hispaniæ thesavrvs” is the first publication to include a substantial part of the groundbreaking research conducted by Francisco Hernández while on the first scientific expedition to New Spain in the 1570s. Hernández’ work was the first of its kind and it remains an invaluable source for the study of 16th c. American natural history.

The story of Hernández’ written works and their (partial) survival and publication, is a complex one, and this printed edition would not have come to fruition without the determination of the prestigious Academy of the Lincei, the first modern scientific society, and one which counted Galileo among its members. The completed volume includes not only Hernández’ own words and images but also commentaries and indices by members of the Academy. (See below for a further discussion of the publishing history and the work of the Lincei.)

Francisco Hernández and the New World:

In 1567, at the age of fifty, the physician and botanist Francisco Hernández (1517-1587) was appointed physician to Philip II. Three years later, the Spanish king sent Hernández on the first scientific mission to the Americas to study the native flora and fauna and to investigate indigenous medical knowledge and practices. For seven years Hernández classified thousands of plants, animals, and minerals, most of which were unknown in Europe. With the assistance of three Native American artists, Pedro Vásquez, and Antón and Baltazar Elías, Hernández also made drawings and paintings that would later serve as models for some of the more than 800 woodcuts that grace the printed edition of his works.

3267_4-1Hernandez described and classified more than 3,000 New World plants, noting their medicinal properties and, for edible plants (e.g., cacao, corn, vanilla, chilies, etc.), their place in the diet of Native Mexicans and the methods used for their cultivation. He described intoxicants (tequila, pulque, various corn concoctions) and hallucinogens (peyote and oliliuhqui) and experimented with native medicines. In his Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline (Timber Press, 1995, p. 90), Richard Evans Schultes designates Hernández and Martín de la Cruz and as the pioneers of ethnobotany in the New World, writing that “Other than these two studies, nothing of historical importance to ethnopharmacology appeared in the Americas in this early period.”

Among the animals described and illustrated —many for the first time in print—are the coyote, ocelot, buffalo, lizards (horny toad, chameleon, etc.), llama, armadillo, the hummingbird, woodpecker, bird of paradise, and toucan.

The descriptions of mineralia in the Thesaurus are to be found in two different sections. “First, 26 chapters are in Nardo Antonio Recchi’s compendium (dated 1580–1582) and another 10 chapters are given in the supplement added by Cassiano dal Pozzo (dated 1626). A total of 47 gemstones, rocks, and earths are described, with their names given in both Náhuatl and Latin. As part of the Latin nomenclature, modifiers such as ‘Mex.’ or ‘No. Hisp.’ are used to emphasize their New World origins. There are semiprecious stones, earths to be used as dyes, organic mineraloids, and artifacts. The longest descriptions concern two impure mineral mixtures of economic interest: salt and nitre.”(Mottana, Mineral novelties from America during Renaissance: the “stones” in Hernández’ and Sahagún’s treatises (1576–1577))3267_3-1

The Publishing History:

The earliest published part of Hernández’ great natural history of New Spain appeared in a now unobtainable, un-illustrated edition, at Mexico City in 1615 (the earliest work published in the New world describing the medicinal value of native plants). An extensively augmented version, prepared by the Academy of the Lincei, was privately printed in Rome in 1628. The sheets of that edition were re-issued in 1649 and again, in 1651 (this issue.)

Hunt sets out the labyrinthine publishing history, beginning with her discussion of the 1615 edition (entry 200, pp. 221): In 1577, when funds for the New World expedition were exhausted, Hernández returned to Spain, bringing with him about twenty large volumes of manuscript material and grandiose plans for its publication. Yet when Hernández died in 1587 his work remained in manuscript.

After Hernández’ death, the Spanish king asked Nardo Antonio de Recchi to edit the work, and de Recchi produced a volume containing selections of the materia medica. A redaction of de Recchi’s work formed the basis of the edition printed in Mexico in 1615 mentioned above, but it was not until 1628, when the Academy of the Lincei, under the direction of Federico Cesi, took on the task of publishing Hernández’ work, that de Recchi’s compilation of the materia medica appeared in print.

The treatises on animals and minerals in the Lincean publication were not redactions but were in fact reproduced from Hernández’ originals. Johannes Schreck, another member of the Lincei, provided commentaries on 60 percent of the chapters on plants and a smaller number of those dealing with animals and minerals. He also provided a valuable appendix with descriptions and images of 300 plants that de Recchi had not included. Johannes Faber was tasked with editing the zoological material, and Fabio Colonna produced extensive commentaries. “Colonna’s solid background in natural history enabled these commentaries to become the first assimilation of Hernández’ contributions on botany and materia medica in the 27th c.”(See López Piñero and Pardo Tomás in “Searching for the Secrets of Nature: The Life and Works of Dr. Francisco Hernández.

A note on the small map of Mexico:

The small, engraved map on the engraved title shows Mexico from the northern borderlands south to Tehauntepec and Honduras, including a good portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Place names in the Gulf of Mexico region include “Sinus Mexicanus” (Gulf of Mexico), “C. Bravo,” “Malabriga,” “Rio de Gigātes” (thought to be Piñeda’s place name for the dwelling place of the Karankawas on the middle Texas coast), and “Quigata”. Some of the toponyms mark locations where Cortez and other early explorers found gold and silver.

Bibliography and further reading: Anderson, Herbals, Chapter 30 (pp. 235-244): “The first scientific expedition to New Spain.” Anker, Bird Books and Bird Art, p. 18: “More than 200 birds are enumerated and briefly commented upon. This section is not illustrated, although several pictures of birds are found in other parts of the work.” Arents (Add.) 346. Beddall, “Spanish Science and the New World,” p. 434: “Hernández traveled in New Spain (Mexico) on what is now considered to be the first modern scientific expedition.” BMC (Nat. Hist.) II, p. 832. JCB I (2, 1600-1658), p. 408. Brunet III, cols. 119-120n. Coues, Birds of the Colorado Valley, pp. 573-574: “This famous work is cited by bibliographers and naturalists in such uncertain ways, occasioning much confusion.” European Americana 1651/81 & 1651/82. Garrison & Morton (5th edition), Medical Bibliography 1821.1n (citing 1628 edition). Glass, pp. 131-132, #132 & fig. 38 & p. 624 (citing this 1651 edition)