(1541 – 1593)
Mercati studied under Andreas Cesalpino at the University of Pisa. Pope Pius V named director of the Vatican botanical garden, an appointment he continued to hold under Gregory XIII and Sixtus V. He actively developed the garden. He was eventually elevated to the aristocracy by the future Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany. He was a pioneer in paleontology, and he understood the origin of stone implements at a time when they were generally considered the product of lightning.
Biographical references: ABI: I 649, 228; I 649, 229-243; II S 54, 391. Accordi, B., "Bibliografia italiana ragionata sulla storia delle Scienze Geologiche (a integrazione dell'opera di Gortani 1931)", Annali Univ. Ferrara, Sez. IX, 6, (1979), no. 1, 1-32. Accordi, B., "Michele Mercati (1541-1593) e la Metallotheca", Geologica Roma, 19, (1980), 1-50, 16 figs. Biographie Universelle: 28, 6-7. Capparoni, Profili Bio-Bibliografici, 1928-32: 1, 48-50, portrait. DSB: 9, 308-9 [by L. Premuda]. Esposito-Vitolo, A., "Michele Mercati (1541-1593)", Boll. Acc. Euteleti, 26, (1950), 20-38. Gemmellaro, C., "Sommi capi di una storia della Geologia sino a tutto il secolo XVIII pe' quali si detegge che le vere basi di questa scienza sono state fondate dagli italiani," Atti dell'Accademia Gioenia di Scienze Naturali, 18 (1862), 40 p. Gortani, M., "Illustrazione de fenomeni carsici nei manoscritti di Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli", Le Grotte d'Italia, 9, (1930), 7 p., 2 figs. Hirsch, Biographisches Lexikon, 1884-8: 4, 169-70 [by W. Haberling & J.L. Pagel]. Lambrecht & Quenstedt, Catalogus, 1938: 290. Magelli, C., "Vita Michaelis Mercati," in: Metallotheca. Romæ, 1719, XXI-XXVI. Nouvelle Biographie Générale (Hoefer): 35, cols. 9-10. Pagano, R., "La Metallotheca Vaticana. Un museo, un trattato", Rivista Mineralogica Italiana, (1981), no. 2, 47-52. Pieragnoli, M., Della Vita e delle opere di Michele Mercati juniore: cenni biografici ecc.. Pisa, Tip. Ristori, S. Miniato. Poggendorff: 2, col. 121. WBI. Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 32-4.
1. Latin, 1717 [First edition, issue A].
[In red:] Michaelis Mercati | [in black:] Samminiatensis | [in red:] Metallotheca | [in black:] Opus Posthumum, | Auctoritate, & Munificentia | [in red:] Clementis | [in black:] Undecimi | [in red:] Pontificis Maximi | [in black:] E tenebris in lucem eductum; | Opera autem, & studio | [in red:] Joannis Mariæ Lancisii | [in black:] Archiatri Pontificii | Illustratum. | [in black, ornament with portrait of Pope Clements XI] | [in red:] Romæ M DCC XVII. | [in black:] Apud [in red, the following letter J, M & S] Jo: Mariæ Salvioni Typographum [in red:] Vaticanum | [in black:] In Archigymnasio [in red:] Sapientiæ. | [black rule] | [in red:] Superiorum Facultate.
2°: , xiii-xlv, xlix-lxiv, 378, 18 p., frontispiece (portrait of Mercati after Tintoretto), 6 engraved plates (2 folding, including one of the museum's interior). Title page in red and black. Gaps in pagination in the preliminaries are occupied by plates. Page size: 390 x 248 mm.
Plates: The engraved frontispiece depicts Pope Clement XI being offered books by sycophants. It is signed, " Petrus Bianchi Roman: Inu: et del: Iacob Frey inc: Romæ." The portrait of Mercati shows his head and shoulders within an oval frame, with the wording underneath, "Michael Mercatus | Clementis VIII | Miniatensis | Archiater." It is signed at the bottom, "Iacobus Robusti alias Tinctoretto pinx. Pet:Nellus del. Bened. Fariat Scul. Romæ super. perm."
Very scarce. A landmark treatise in the history of mineralogy and metallurgy describing what was among the first organized mineralogical museums ever established. Noteworthy for excellence of style and clarity, Metallotheca is considerably more that a treatise on minerals and metals. It provided a uniform generic classification for all the known minerals and fossils. It also introduced a "remarkable discourse on the variations of the surface and subsurface of the earth caused by long epochs of geological evolution."
Although written in the 16th century the work was only printed for the first time under the editorship of the great physician Giovanni Maria Lancisi [1654-1720]. The volume is splendidly produced and illustrated, with many examples of earths, slates, alums, sulphur, bitumen, coral, etc., and, in the section on marbles several remarkable plates of famous statues such as Laocoon and the Apollo Belvedere.
In the service of the Popes, Mercati began to accumulate in a wing of the Museum Pio-Clementino, a collection of rocks, minerals and fossils that he called the Metallotheca (a complement to the Bibliotheca, or library). It was certainly one of the most important such collections assembled during the 16th century. Its contents were systematically arranged in 19 large, expensive, custom built cabinets. From the beginning, Mercati worked diligently on describing the specimens, but at his death only about half of the cabinets were completed. The task then fell onto his former teacher, Andreas Cesalpino, who wrote De Metallicis (1st ed., Romæ, 1596), without any of Mercati's notes. In fact, for years after Mercati's death, the manuscript and 127 copper plate engravings remained unknown and unpublished. Then they were rediscovered by the Florentine humanist Carlo Roberto Dati [1619-1676]. He attempted to have Mercati's work published, but failed in the attempt. However, he let some among his scientist friends examine Mercati's manuscript. In this way, the Metallotheca became known to Nicolaus Steno and Paolo Boccone. In fact, Steno borrows the beautiful engraving of a shark's head (Caput lami') which he published in his own Elementorvm Myologiæ Specimen (Florentiæ, 1667), quoting the source. After Dati's death, his heirs gave the Mercati manuscript material to Pope Clementi XI, who commissioned the great physician Giovanni Maria Lancisi to bring the work to publication. In this effort he was assisted by Petrus Assalti who edited the notes. The work appeared in 1717, and is almost all that remains of Mercati's wonderful collection, which was stolen or lost shortly after Mercati's death.
The copper plate engravings were executed by the Dutch goldsmith, engraver and painter Anton Eisenhoit [fl. 1570-1619] between 1572 and 1581. These remarkable illustrations make this work one of the most precious publications of the Renaissance in terms of iconography. For the text, Mercati relied principally upon the earlier works of Theophrastus, Pliny, Albertus Magnus, and Agricola. He also incorporated many notes from about a hundred of less important writers, encyclopediaists, geographer's, etc. Interestingly, Mercati provides direct observations to places he had visited including Pozzuoli, Tolfa, the Tuscany hills, and Ischia and Elba islands. But to theoretical ideas, he confines himself to Aristotelian beliefs that fossils had been created in rocks by heavenly influences of the stars in the outer spheres. Reasons as to why mountains, valleys and volcanoes exist are completely ignored.
The principal material of the text is the detailed description of specimens contained in ten show cases, which represent approximately half of the total collection. These contain respectively, (1) earths, including shales, terra rosas, kaolin earths, sands, (2) salts, including sodium & potassium chloride, saltpetre, (3) acrid juices, including vitriol, borax, malachite, azurite, realgar, (4) fat juices, including sulphur, hydrocarbons, coals, amber (5) alums, including selenite and various alums, (6) marine products, including sponges, corals, gasteropods, (7) rocks similar to earths (soft stones), including pyrolusite, volcanic tuffs, muscovite, gypsum, pumice, (8) stones derived from animals, including bezoar, deer tear, pearls, (9) idiomorphic stones, including echinoid spines, entrochi, staurolite, stalactitie concretions, geodes, dendrites, belemnites, ammonites, fossil bones and teeth (10) marbles, giving few examples. In the Appendix issued in 1719, there are information about Mercati's other works concerning plague and the obelisks of Rome as well as text about the lives of Lancisi and Assalti.
If Mercati's Metallotheca Vaticana had been published at the end of the 16th century, he surely would be ranked with Georgius Agricola and Conrad Gesner as a founder of mineralogy and paleontology. However, when the work was finally published, its measure had been surpassed by over a century of progress. Consequently, the contemporary reviews of the time do not pass kindly on the work.
This first issue is distinguished by having the date of 1717 on the title page and not 1719. The BMC points out that a new title page dated 1719 for the whole work was issued in the Appendix. This title was intended to replace the orignal title page dated 1717. Such a copy of the Appendix with the extra title page is held in the special collections area of the University of Arizona Library. Based on this evidence, there are no grounds for supposing that there are two editions of the the main work, one of 1717, the other of 1719. The Appendix is described below.
Sebastian Conca. (Born: Gaeta, Italy, 8 January 1680; Died: Naples, Italy, 1 September 1764) Italian painter.
Jakob Frey. (Born: Hochdorf (Kt. Luzern), Switzerland, 17 February 1681; Died: Rome, Italy, 11 January 1752) Swiss copper engraver.
Bibliographical references: Acta Eruditorium: 1718, 49-52. BMC: 3, 1288 [imperfect]. Brunet: 3, 1644. Cooper, A., "The museum and the book: The `Metallotheca' and the history of an encyclopaedic natural history in early modern Italy", Journal of the History of Collections, 7, (1995), 1-23. Freilich Sale Catalog: no. 391. Gatterer, Mineralogischen Literatur, 1798-9: 1, 118. Hoover Collection: no. 581. LKG: XV 3. Murray, Museums, 1904: 1, 29, 67, 69, 82, 223 & 3, 22. Pagano, R., "La Metallotheca Vaticana. Un museo, un trattato", Rivista Mineralogica Italiana, (1981), no. 2, 47-52. Partington, History of Chemistry, 1961-70: 2, 92. Partsch, Katalog der Bibliothek, 1851: no. 476. Schröter's Journal für die Liebhaber: 3 (1776), 84-6. Sinkankas, Gemology Bibliography, 1993: no. 4390. Thorndike, History of Magic, 1923-58: 6, 210. Ward & Carozzi, Geology Emerging, 1984: no. 1541. Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 19, 32-4 & 217-8. (Conca) ABI: I 313, 6-21; II S 23, 58. • DBA: I 199, 193; 497, 164. • Nagler, Neues allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, 1835-52. • Thieme & Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon, 1907-50: 7, 287-8 [other refs.]. • WBI. (Frey) Thieme & Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon, 1907-50: 12, 437-8.
2. Latin, 1719 [First edition, issue B].
[In red:] Michaelis Mercati | [in black:] Samminiatensis | [in red:] Metallotheca | [in black:] Opus Posthumum, | Auctoritate, & Munificentia | [in red:] Clementis | [in black:] Undecimi | [in red:] Pontificis Maximi | [in black:] E tenebris in lucem eductum; | Opera autem, & studio | [in red:] Joannis Mariæ Lancisii | [in black:] Archiatri Pontificii | Illustratum. | [in red:] Cui Accessit Appendix | Cum XIX. Recens Inventis Iconibus. | [in black, ornament with portrait of Pope Clements XI] | [in red:] Romæ M DCC XIX. | [in black:] Apud [in red, the following letter J, M & S] Jo: Mariæ Salvioni Typographum [in red:] Vaticanum | [in black:] In Archigymnasio [in red:] Sapientiæ. | [black rule] | [in red:] Superiorum Facultate.
2°: π4 b-e4 f3 g-h4 A-Z4 2A-2Z4 3A-3C4 χ2; 227l.; [i-x], xiii-xlv, xlix-lxiv, 1-378,  p., frontispiece (portrait of Mercati after Tintoretto), 6 engraved plates (2 folding, including one of the museum's interior). Title page in red and black. Page size: 390 x 248 mm.
Contents: [i-ii], Half title page, "Metallotheca | Vaticana | Michaelis | Mercati," verso blank.; [iii-iv], Frontispiece portrait of Pope Clements XI, verso blank.; [v-vi], Portrait of Lancisivm, verso blank.; [vii-viii], Title page, verso blank.; [ix-xii], Dedication to Pope Clement XI.; xiij-xviij, "In Metallothecam | Vaticanam | Præfatio | Joannis Mariæ Lancisii | Archiatri Pontificii | Ad humanissimum Lectorem."; xix-xx, "Illustrissimo Viro | Jo. Mariæ Lancisco | Ab Intimo Cubiculo, | Et Archiatro Sanctissmi Pontificis | Clementis XI. | Carolus Majellus S.P.D."-dated January 1716.; xxi-xxvi, "Vita | Michaelis Mercati."; xxvij-xxviij, "Illustrissimo, ac Reverrendissimo Viro | Carolo Majello | Ab Honore Sacri Cubiculi, | Et Vaticanæ tum Basilicæ Canonico, tum Bibliothecæ Præfecto. | Jo: Maria Lancisius S.P.D."; xxix-xxx, "Petrus Assaltus | Lectori suo."; xxxi-xliij, "Testimonia | Clarissimorum Virorum | De | Micaele Mercato | ..."; xliv-xlv, "Imprimatur, | ..." [=approbation].; [xlvi], Blank.; [Folding plate showing the museum interior].; xlix-lij, "Clementi VIII. | Pont. Max. | Michael Mercatus." [=Epistola Dedicatoria].; liij-liv, "Benevolo | Lectori." [=preface].; lv-lix, "Auctoris | In Metallothecam suam."; [lx], Blank.; lxi-lxiv, "Index Captium." [=table of contents].; 1-378, Text.; [13 pgs], "Index Rerum, | Quæ In Hoc Opere | continentur."; [1 pg], Blank.; [1 pg], "Errata Corrige."; [1 pg], Blank.; [1 pg], "Regestum." [at bottom, Romæ MDCCXVII].; [1 pg], Blank.
Plates: Identical to the 1717 issue A.
Very scarce. This second issue is distinguished by a cancel title page bearing the date of 1719 and additional wording, as well as sometimes the inclusion in the binding of the Appendix, which was also issued as an independent work [see next item].
Dissertation, 1719: Dissertatio ad Mercati Metallothecam in Bonomiensi Scient. Acad. recitata by Herkules Corazzi. Bononiæ, 1719. 4°. Apparently, this very rare dissertation by Corazzi [?-1726], a professor of mathematics at Turin, was based on Mercati's text. [LKG XV 4a.]
Bibliographical references: Cobres, Deliciæ Cobresianæ, 1782: 1, 107. Gatterer, Mineralogischen Literatur, 1798-9: 1, 118. Hoover Collection: no. 581. LKG: XV 3. Partington, History of Chemistry, 1961-70: 2, ??. Thorndike, History of Magic, 1923-58: 6, 210. Ward & Carozzi, Geology Emerging, 1984: no. 1541. Wilson, History of Mineral Collecting, 1994: 19, 32-4 & 217-8.
3. Latin, 1719 [Appendix].
[In red:] Appendix | [in black:] Ad | [in red:] Metallothecam | [in black:] Vaticanam | [in red:] Michaelis Mercati, | [in black:] In qua Lectoribus exhibentur XIX. Icones ex Typis | æneis nuper Florentiæ inventis, quorum XIV. | Pontificia liberalitate suppleti jam fuerant: | Quinque verò penitùs desiderabantur. | [in red:] Additis Notis, | [in black:] Et novis Iconibus Choclearum Cornu Ammonis formâ. | [vignette] | [in red:] Romæ MDCCXIX. | [in black:] Apud [in red:] Jo: | Mariam Salvioni [in black:] Typographum [in red:] Vaticanum | [in black:] In Archigymnasio [in red:] Sapientiæ. | [black rule] | [in red:] Superiorum Facultate.
2°: π1 A-F4 G3; 28l.; , -53,  p., frontispiece (portrait of Lancisi), 20 engraved plates. Title page in red and black. Engraved initials. Page size: 388 x 254 mm.
Contents: [2 pgs], Title page, "Michaelis Mercati | Samminiatensis | Metallotheca. | Opus Posthumum, | ... | Romæ MDCCXIX. | ...," verso blank.; [1-2], Title page, verso blank.; [Frontispiece portrait of Lancisivm facing page 3.]; 3-6, "Præfatio | Joannis Mariæ Lancisii | Archiatri Pontificii | Ad Lectorem."; 7-28, Text, consisting of superb copper engraved illustrations (220 x 142 mm.) with descriptions.; 29-53, "I. | Epistorla Apologetica | De Generatione Metallorum."; [1 pg], "Syllabus | Contentorum In Appendice." [=table of contents].
Plates: The engraved frontispiece shows a portrait of Lancis within an oval frame and incorporating the wording at the bottom, "Archiatrum cernis, celbrat quem sama per orbem | doctrina, ingenio, moribus, eloquio: | Clementi incolumi seruando, quem Deus alto | consilio elegit, nomine Lancisivm." It is signed "Sebastian Conca pinx. Iac. Frey Sc. Romæ 1718." All other illustrations within the Appendix are unsigned. These show corals, shells, mushrooms, a bird, fossil bones, and ancient statues of Laocoon, Apollo & Antinous.
Very scarce. This is the independent issue of the Appendix published in 1719 for purchasers of the 1717 edition. The BMC points out that a new title page dated 1719 for the Metallotheca was issued in the Appendix. This title was intended to replace the orignal title page dated 1717. Such a copy of the Appendix with the extra title page is held in the special collections area of the University of Arizona Library. Based on this evidence, there are no grounds for supposing that there are two editions of the the main work, one of 1717, the other of 1719.
Bibliographical references: Acta Eruditorium: 1720, 169-72. BMC: 3, 1288..