PORTA, Giovanni Battista della. De Humana Physiognomia libri IIII. 138 ff., complete (numerous errors in pagination). Illustrated with engraved title-page (including a portrait of the author within an architectural border), engraved portrait of the dedicatee Cardinal Luigi d'Este two full-page engravings of a man and a woman (each repeated once), and 81 engravings by repetition of 27 copperplates. Folio, 320 x 220, bound in nineteenth century Italian vellum. Vico Equense: Giuseppe Cacchi, 1586.
First Edition, an eccentric sixteenth-century illustrated book, representing one of the earliest works on physiognomy, preceding by some two hundred years Lavater's attempts at estimating human character by features of the face.
Porta's treatise on human physiognomy was written to "scientifically" establish the correspondence between external form of the body and the internal character of a person, specifically mental and moral attributes. Physiognomy (literally 'knowledge of nature') is the art of reading a person's character, disposition, even his future, from signs in his face.
Porta here rationalizes the art, which was in fact practiced in ancient Greece, by comparing the likeness of various human features to those of animals. Among the animals depicted herein are the owl, ostrich, lion, crow, bull, ox, hog, monkey, donkey, cat, greyhound, eagle, horse, ram, rooster, and others -- all with their "human counterparts." This justly famous work was frequently reprinted: Thorndike (History of Magic and Experimental Science V, 68) estimates that twenty-one editions of Porta's De Humana physiognomia had already appeared by 1655. This first edition is now scarce in private ownership, and much sought-after owing to the high quality of the copperplates.
"The designer and cutter of the illustrations is unknown. However, the distortion of features that is practiced in these hybrid monstrosities anticipates the caricaturist's process of blending real and exaggerated characteristics, suggesting that early scientific illustrators are among the forebears of caricaturists" (Brown University, Caricature and its Role in Graphic Satire, 1971, no. 12).
Giovanni Battista della Porta (1535-1615) was one of the most interesting natural philosophers in Naples during the late Renaissance. From 1547 to 1552 the Neapolitan academies were closed by the Inquisition under suspicion of political intrigue; it is believed that during this time Porta was largely self-taught. Porta then established the Accademia dei Segreti (Academia Secretorum Naturae) which met at his own house in Naples, and was devoted to the discussion and study of the secrets of nature. Porta's Academy was eventually closed by the Inquisition, which also banned his writings.
The range of Porta's scientific and literary interests is demonstrated by his works, which include treatises on "natural magic," cryptography, the art of memory and mnemonic devices, the physiognomy of the hands (based on his observations in the prisons of Naples, often cited as a precursor of criminal physiognomy), the physiognomy of plants, and optics.
Some insignificant marginal staining and spotting, minor marginal repair on the last leaf, overall a near fine copy.
Mortimer, Italian 398. Durling, National Library of Medicine 3720. Osler 3714. DSB XI, 96-98. Norman 1723. L.G. Clubb, Giambattista della Porta, Dramatist, 1965, especially pp. 24 & 35 ff. Not in Honeyman.
Item nr. 168505