Colonna, Fabio


Phytobasanos, sive, Plantarum aliquot historia: in qua describuntur diversi generis plantae veriores, ac magis favie, veribusque respondentes antiquorum Theophrasti, Dioscoridis, Plinii, Galeni, aliorumque delineationibus, ab aliis hucusque non animadversae.

Accesit etiam Piscium aliquot, plantarumque novarum historia eodem auctore. Neapoli: Ex officini Horatii Salviani, apud Jo. Jacobum Carlinum, & Antonium Pacem, 1592. First edition. References: Nissen 386; Hunt 165. Includes index. Lengthy ms. annotation on front flyleaf cited as Haller, Bibl. Botan. [i.e. A. von Haller's Bibliotheca botanica].

Phytobasanos, the Romanized title of this work, means plant touchstone. Touchstones were marble slabs used by goldsmiths to determine a metal's value and quality. Colonna wanted to produce a "touchstone" for plants which would provide a positive method of identification. As a result of his work the study of plants took another step toward becoming a science.

Colonna was born in Naples of an illustrious family which traced its roots back to the Roman Empire. Colonna clearly had an inquisitive mind and was interested in the arts, languages, music, and botany. Unfortunately, he suffered from epilepsy. As part of his studies he began a systematic investigation of plants and their curative powers. This led to his discovery of the valerian root, an anticonvulsant, which appeared to be effective in controlling his seizures.

Colonna drew illustrations for his herbal himself. He was keenly aware of the value of accurate pictures which show the unique characteristics of individual plants. He reproduced the illustrations by etching, a process new to botanical book illustration at that time. The etching process enabled him to preserve details that were formerly lost because of the heavier lines of woodcut illustration. However, when the book was ready to go to press he realized that the etchings, which are incised into the surface, could not be printed at the same time and on the same press with raised type. Colonna solved this problem by putting each sheet containing illustrations through the press a second time. He first printed a woodcut border for each illustration, then, for the second printing, carefully added the engraved illustration, which was properly positioned within the border. As a result, Colonna was one of the first to use two processes to print a single page. The detail of his plates set new standards for botanical illustration. Colonna's original drawings for this edition have been preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples.

Subjects: Botany--Pre-Linnean works; Fishes.


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