La Fisonomia dell'huomo et la CelesteDALLA PORTA, Giovanni Battista
Venetia: Presso Sebastian Combi, & Gio: LaNoù. Alla Minerva.. 1652.
Three works in one. This single volume contains two of della Porta's most celebrated and lasting works on physiognomy and astrology. The third book is Giovanni Ingegneri's Natural Physiognomy bound with an Italian translation of Polemon's second century treatise on physiognomy.
8vo. 153x100mm. pp. , 598, [1bl]; , 190, [1bl]; 134. Text in Italian. Engraved vignette on title page, engraved portrait of della Porta, engraved illustrations (some full page) throughout the two della Porta works. Front pastedown has the armorial bookplate of the Plettenberg and Esterhazy-Galantha families from the great library at Schloss Nordkirchen and the book label of Michael Jaffe, the art historian and director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Contemporary vellum, yapp edges. Title faintly inscribed in black ink on spine together with the letters F.H. Internally excellent. A fine copy.
Della Porta’s Fisonomia Dell’Huomo (first published in Latin in 1586 as De humana physiognomia) is a synthesis of earlier studies on physiognomy. By the late 16th century, the idea that one could “read” a person’s mind, character or soul from their face and body was an important area of scientific study as well as being crucial in the development of Renaissance portraiture. Della Porta’s book quickly became the leading work on the subject, being superseded only by Lavater’s studies two hundred years later. Perhaps the most famous (and popular) sections of Fisonomia Dell’Huomo are those that deal with the parallels between animal and human characteristics, the idea being that a man who looks like a lion will behave as a lion but if he looks like a sheep then he will be destined to be killed and eaten by lions. Whether or not we believe this, it did result in a series of charming illustrations showing what feline, bovine, canine and asinine people look like.
The second work by della Porta in this volume was published initially in 1603 (in Latin) and first translated into Italian in 1614. A strange work, it is a defence of astrology but presented as an attack in order to satisfy the Church which had accused della Porta of engaging with matters of magic and the occult. Della Celeste Fisonomia rejects traditional astrology (although it does contain some lovely engravings of the signs of the zodiac) and seeks to make a link between the four humours that control the human body and the nature of the planets.