Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus. Zacharia TRABER.
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus
"A Classic of Optics"
Illustrated with 36 Engravings
Binding with the Arms of the Work's Dedicatee
Vienna, J. C. Cosmerovius, 1675.

Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus.

4to [29.8 x 19.4 cm], (12) ff., 225 pp., (1) p., with an engraved frontispiece, (36) full-page or folding engraved plates on (33) leaves (35 engravings numbered I-IV, I-XIV, I-XVII, and 1 engraving [fig. 39 on plate VII of Book II] separately engraved but unnumbered), and with woodcut headpieces, tailpieces and initials. Bound in contemporary vellum over boards, paper label with shelf mark laid to spine, upper and lower covers with stamps of György Szelepcsényi, Archbishop of Esztergom (see below), silk ribbon ties, red edges. Some handsoiling and edge wear to spine and boards, lower board with several repairs, re-cased in its original binding, flyleaves renewed with close to original paper. Contemporary ownership inscription on title page (see below), faint stamp on verso of frontispiece, a few contemporary annotations and corrections, occasional minor staining, occasional minor edge wear, a few plates (at pp. 84, 101, 113, 125, 224) affixed to fore-edge of adjacent text leaf at time of binding; plate at p. 205 mounted on tab (was originally at fore-edge) and mended (see instructions to the bookbinder on final page). Minor restored tear to Table X, book III. Some minor offsetting of text here and there. Complete and generally in very good condition.

Rare first edition of Zacharias Traber’s (1611-79) lavishly illustrated compendium on optics, catoptrics and dioptrics, the Nervus opticus, here in a copy whose contemporary binding carries the arms of the work’s dedicatee, György Szelepcsényi, Archbishop of Esztergom (1595-1685; see below). A professor of mathematics at Vienna and later rector of the Jesuit seminary there, Traber deals extensively with the anatomy and physiology of the eye and the physical properties of light, and he includes much historical information about the development of this science from Aristotle to the work of such contemporaries as Kepler, Kircher, Descartes, Aguilon, and Scheiner. “Published in the same year that Isaac Newton was making his advances in the study of light, this encyclopaedic illustrated book is a classic of optics … The book itself is an extremely fine example of the press of Christoph Cosmeovin” (Hoolihan and Weimar, p. 89).

Traber’s analysis is particularly advanced in dealing with refraction of light and the theory of color vision, and contains also a fascinating early color-theory diagram concerning the mixture of pigments by painters (plate I and p. 17; see Kuehni and Schwarz, Color Ordered, p. 43). Included are illustrations and discussions of microscopes, telescopes, Scheiner’s sunspot instrument, anamorphoses, sundials, and important concepts anticipating both photographic and cinematic technology, including the camera obscura (in various forms) and a theatrical machine giving the illusion of movement to static images. “In Nervus opticus sive tractatus theoricus (1675), Zacharias Traber … described a peep box containing a round horizontal wheel [pp. 125-7]. A miniature ‘stage set’ was constructed inside the box, and tiny puppets or cut-out figures attached to the wheel. When the crank was turned, an endless procession – hermits in the desert or a scene from hell (with real flames!) – could be seen in a mirror placed obliquely opposite the peephole. The role of the mirror was all important, because it virtualized the material and disguised the internal mechanism” (Huhtamo, p. 34).

Traber also addresses several technical and theoretical problems which were to be of importance in the use of optical devices – including the camera obscura – to help produce artworks, and which later would be essential even in the development of photography: He “seems to have made some advances on his predecessors with reference to the properties of lenses in their graphic applications. For instance, in Chapter xii, Proposition 3, he notes the want of definition due to oblique rays falling on a plano-convex lens and focusing at shorter distances than the parallel rays, or what we now call ‘spherical aberration.’ In Chapter xv he gives a number of problems relating to the use of convex lenses, and in Problem 6 he shows how the height of a distant object may be measured by the size of its image on the screen of the camera obscura, and gives a practical illustration on the basis that as the size of the visible image on the screen is to the focus of the lens, so the actual height of the object to its distance from the lens. In this way Traber seems to have been the first who made an attempt to apply calculation to these problems … In Problem 7 he treats of the observation of eclipses in the same way by means of long focus lenses. In Chapter xix, Proposition 4, he deals with the projection of erect images on a screen in a dark room through a system of two convex lenses more fully than [previous] writers, and illustrates it with a figure showing the paths of the rays from the object, through the two lenses on to the screen. Speaking of telescopes, he says that those with two convex lenses or a concave and a convex were comparatively common, but those with more lenses were much more expensive and not so efficient for ordinary purposes on account of the chromatic aberrations. He also mentions a telescope made by Eustachio, the Neapolitan, with nineteen convex lenses enclosed in a tube 19 cubits long, which showed objects with less colour, this being effected by the use of some very fine (subtillissima) glass, which, while neither increasing nor enlarging anything, prevented the discolouration of the objects. These accounts of Eustachio Divini as the inventor of an achromatic telescope seem worth of further investigation” (Waterhouse, p. 185). “In Chapter xxi, Prop. 2, he considers the combinations of concave and convex lenses, and the calculation of their distances, a problem which Scheiner did not attempt, but preferred to work out practically. In Prop. 10 he discusses the projection of images with a combination of a concave with a convex lens. His demonstration is something like Kepler’s, in attributing the enlargement of the image to the mere divergence of the rays after passing through the concave” (Waterhouse, p. 119).

The volume’s fine engraved frontispiece, which depicts putti gleefully playing with dozens of optical instruments, captures both the scientific and religious implications of examining and manipulating the properties of light and vision. “Many of the important optical treatises of the seventeenth century were written by members of the Society of Jesus. The reason for this intense interest in optics has yet to be explained, but it may well be related to the Society’s fascination with religious imagery, and especially the image of divine light. It may be significant that the emblem of the Society itself was a sun radiating light” (Ashworth, p. 11).

The book’s cover is stamped with the arms of György Szelepcsényi, Archbishop of Esztergom (1595-1685), who is also the work’s dedicatee, suggesting that this volume was perhaps Traber’s dedication copy to Szelepcsényi. The inscription on the title page reads “Colleg. S Jesu, Tyr: 1675”, indicating that almost immediately after its publication the book entered the library at the Jesuit University of Trnava (Latin, Tyrnavia; German, Tyrnau; Hungarian, Nagyszombat; in present-day Slovakia), an institution founded in 1635 by one of György Szelepcsényi’s predecessors as Archbishop of Esztergom, Péter Pázmány (1570-1637). The Jesuit University of Trnava was regarded as, “the most important centre of Catholic learning in the Kingdom of Hungary between 1635 and 1773” (Beck, 6) and Szelepcsényi certainly continued Pázmány’s patronage of the institution.

The Jesuit University in Trnava moved to Buda in 1777 and then to Pest in 1784, ultimately splitting into Pázmány Péter Catholic University and Eötvös Loránd University. The modern-day University of Trnava was founded only in 1992 and is unrelated to the 1635 institution.

* W. B. Ashworth, Jesuit Science in the Age of Galileo; C. Hoolihan and M. F. Weimar, Catalog of the Bernard Becker, M.D. Collection in Ophthalmology, no. 234; A. Mayer, Wiens Buchdrucker-Geschichte, 1482-1882, vol. 1, no. 1968; E. Huthamo, “Toward a History of Peep Practice,” A Companion to Early Cinema, A. Gaudreault et al. eds., pp. 32-51; J. Waterhouse, “The Early History of Telephotography,” The Proceedings of the Optical Convention, no. 1 (1905), pp. 115-21; J. Waterhouse, “Notes on Early Tele-Dioptric Lens-Systems, and the Genesis of Telephotography,” The British Journal of Photography, vol. LXIX (1902), pp. 185-7; S. Zavarský, “The Cosmology of Martinus Szent-Ivany SJ (1633-1705): Some Philological Notes on his Dissertatio Cosmographica seu De Mundi Systemate,” in D. Beck ed., Knowing Nature in Early Modern Europe; R. G. Kuehni and A. Schwarz, Color Ordered: A Survey of Color Systems from Antiquity to the Present.

Price: $24,500.00

See all items in Rare Books
See all items by