Books on Natural History

Books in Ximenez's library relevant to natural history can be grouped into several overlapping categories. The first of these categories constitutes core publications of sixteenth-century natural history, often discussing plants or animals as well as their uses in medicine and food. Examples are Conrad Gessner's famous Historia animalium (4 vols, Latin, 1551-1558); a German edition (first published 1563) of Pietro Andrea Matthioli's commentaries on the materia medica of Dioscorides; a new edition of Hieronymus Bock's Kreüterbuch (first published 1539); the Latin edition of Rembert Dodoneus's Kruydtboeck (1583); Carolus Clusius's Rariorum plantarum historia (1601); Ferrante Imperato's Dell'historia natural (1599); and Guillaume Rondelet's L'histoire entière des poisons (1558). A second category of titles concerns herbal medicine and health care, which often included recipes and moral advice, such as the Thesaurus sanitatis by Jean Liébault (1577); however, this genre was a bit old-fashioned by the early seventeenth century. Later dietary texts focused more on food and health: Ximenez's copy of Ludovicus Nonnius's Ichtyophagia (1616) on eating fish is an example.

A third important group in the library comprised works on the exploration of remote parts of the world containing information about living nature, such as Olaus Magnus's mix of history and fable about Scandinavia (1577), reports on the British colony in Virginia (1609), the voyages to Asia by Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1590s) and various other Dutchmen, and the Spanish conquest of Peru by Pedro Cieza de Léon (1553). A related category of knowledge was represented by works (both printed and in manuscript) on practical aspects of agriculture, gardening, hunting, and the training and veterinary treatment of horses; these constitute a large and significant group. They range from Italian publications about bridling, shoeing and caring for horses to texts on fox hunting and hunting with falcons. Classical and more modern treatises on agriculture and the delights of the country house, such as Le vinti giornate dell'agricoltura et de' piaceri della villa by Agostino Gallo (1588) point to Ximenez's country house and its double function as both location of leisure and source of produce. A manuscript on gardening, Jardinagini, and Salomon de Caus's Raisons des forces mouvantes avec diverses machines (…) adjoints plusieurs desseings de grotes et fontaines (1615) suggest that the Ximenez family was interested in the latest fashions in garden design.

A fifth group of works was publications about minerals and alchemy, such as Caspar Bauhin's work on the bezoar stone of 1613, and De alchimiae difficultatibus by Theobaldus de Hogelande (1594). A sixth and final group consists of naturalia in emblem books and works with a moralizing or religious meaning, for instance Bartholomeus Anglicus's De proprietatibus rerum (originally written in the thirteenth century). Strikingly absent – given Ximenez's interest in voyages – are Clusius's Exoticorum (1605) and the original Portuguese edition of Garcia da Orta's Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India (1563). Although quite a few works in Ximenez's library deal with living nature, the impression remains of a practical rather than a scientific orientation with respect to natural history.

Florike Egmond, Leiden University


Ogilvie, Brian. The Science of Describing. Natural History in Renaissance Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Cook, Harold. Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Egmond, Florike. The World of Carolus Clusius: Natural History in the Making, 1550-1610. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2010.