Earliest printing of Arabic physicians in a modern vernacular

Ortolff von Baierland (Ortolf of Bavaria). Arzneibuch.

Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 17. III. 1477.

Folio (210 x 315 mm). 87 (instead of 90) ff., including one (of two) blanks [#4-1, a10-1,b–e10, f8, g10, h8, i10-1]. Gothic type. 39 lines. Rubricated and with lombardic initials in red and blue throughout. Contemporary richly blind-stamped calf binding over wooden boards on three raised double bands; finely tooled brass fittings and brass remnants of two clasps.


One of the earliest medical books in the vernacular and the first printed German pharmacopoeia. First dated edition: an undated edition was published at Augsburg in the same year, followed by four more printed editions before 1500. Of the utmost rarity, no copy of the present first edition traceable at auction or in the trade since 1950. Only Lathrop C. Harper offered a copy of the Augsburg edition in 1953, then described as "one of the earliest and rarest medical books of the fifteenth century".

Drawing strongly on the Arabic physicians who dominated the medieval medical school, Ortolff's work contains not only countless references to Avicenna, al-Razi, Mansur and Ibn Rushd (especially in the part on the preservation of health from fol. 44 onwards) but even some of the earliest complete renderings of their tracts into a modern language, here printed for the first time: "leaves 7 to 13 contain 'Meyster Isaacs Buch', which is nothing less than Isaac Judaeus' book on Uroscopy, by far the most elaborate medieval treatise on the subject" (Sarton). The final part of Ortolff's work is dedicated to the prescriptions for remedies used in professional medicine, making his Arzneibuch the "first German pharmacist handbook" (Schelenz) ever.

Modern spine professionally supplied, preserving the original covers with fine gothic blindstamps (not recorded in Schunke, Schwenke-Sammlung). Inner hinges and gutters of the first and last few leaves reinforced with Japanese paper; a few professional remarginings, but tightly sewn. First leaf of the registrum and text of last leaf (with one printed paragraph of 7 lines only) both supplied in 19th century manuscript. Textually complete with the dated imprint on the last leaf of the registrum present. Complete copies are nearly unobtainable: even the reference copy stored at the BSB in Munich lacks seven leaves.

Provenance: contemporary marginalia and foliation. 17th or early 18th century manuscript ownership of Ottobeuren Abbey ("monasterii ottenburani") in Bavaria at the head of the first text leaf; later in a Württembergian private collection.

H 12112*. Goff O-110. GW M28462. Proctor 1977. Stillwell 466. Osler 123. Sudhoff 22. ISTC io00110000. Schelenz 336 ("Das erste deutsche Apothekerbuch").

For the content cf. VL2 7, col. 80, and G. Keil, Ortolfs Arzneibuch, in: Sudhoffs Archiv 53 (1969), p. 124f. and Sarton III/2, pp. 1206/7.