“While I contrived to dedicate myself to the study of Botany”

by sarahkburke

The newest online exhibit from Dumbarton Oaks explores the Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century. One of the featured items in this exhibit is an eighteenth-century manuscript copy of Paolo Boccone’s Museo de Piante rare (1697). The manuscript was prepared by Aloysio Cabrini.  Based on his interest in medicinal plants, it seems possible that Cabrini may have been a pharmacist.

This 1791 manuscript consists of hand-drawn copies of nearly every engraving from Boccone’s 1697 Museo. Many of the illustrations are accompanied by Linnaean names, reflecting eighteenth-century developments that revolutionized the study of natural history. In addition, the volume has at least sixteen original images of plants that had not been included in the earlier publication.

Hypericum crispum in Boccone (left) and Cabrini (right)

Hypericum crispum in Boccone (left) and Cabrini (right)

Some of the plants Cabrini adds are common Mediterranean flowers such as the Calendula officinalis (or marigold) and the Rosa gallica. To others, such as Aristolochia longa vera officinarum, Cabrini ascribes medical uses. He recommends Assarum officinarum as a substitute for Ipecachuana [sic] succedanea, an emetic.  He recommends both Uva ursi and Vita-Idaea (perhaps Vaccinium vitis-idaea, or lingonberry) for cases of “stone.”

Cabrini’s manuscript copies only the printed tables from the Museo, omitting Boccone’s text. The addition of classification information to the images, as well as the occasional addition of new morphological details—often the flower or the calyx—required more space, so that the plants from one printed plate can easily occupy several leaves in Cabrini’s manuscript. The new details are significant given the prominent use of flowers and sepals in eighteenth-century systems of plant identification.

Approximate area of Cabrini's botanical study

Approximate area of Cabrini’s botanical study

Cabrini’s region seems to have been the area east of the Appenine Mountains, between Ancona and Pescara on Italy’s east coast, perhaps based in the city of Macerata. In his preface Cabrini mentions that he borrowed a copy of Boccone’s Museo from a doctor. He believed that he could improve it by introducing information from Linnaeus.

The following images show Cabrini’s handwritten preface:

preface, page 1

preface, page 2

A transcription of the Latin follows:

Praefatio & Operis ratio.

Dum me ad Botanicae studium dedicare, voluptatem haud paucam et utilem mihi afferre excogitabam; tot tantorum hominum illustrium vestigia sequutus, non labori, non sudoribus, neque impensis peperci ad incommodas per accliviores Appeninos montes peregrinationes suscipiendas, nec non diuturnas intra patriam herborisationes.  Tum classicorum Autorum opera reconsulebam, inter quae ea cl. Linnaei frequentius. In speciebus recognoscendis Musei Petr. Bocconi panormitani Ill. Vir magni faciebat.  Quidam medicus amicus illud mihi rarum opus  gratie mutuabat.  Hoc restituto hinc quanti esse faciendum et quam mihi fare necessarium praevidebam.  Optimum ideo duxi ruditer ab eo imitare tabulas, hisce praeter sua Linnaei generica nec non specifica nomina frasesque inscribere, ullas Ill. Halleri notas ad lumen revocare; hinc demum in colligando opus sexdecim alteras addere icones, quae, nesciendo ubi eas inserere in botanices oblectamentis mihi specimen dabant, et sunt: (1) Jacea-Intybacea, idest Centaurea-nudicaulis Linnaei, quae ex cel. Scopoli sententia, quum sit planta adhuc in propria specie obscura, ideo ipsius Linnaei herbarium a cl. Smithio Londini possessum esset consulendum ut ad quam ex duobus iconibus pertineat decideremus. (2) Campanula-Erinus Linn. lecta in peculiari viridario Maceratae atque abbunde in Piceni peregrinationibus reperta; etiam Viola-grandiflora, que videtur confondere cum sequenti (3) Viola-calcarata prope Nursiae appenninos passim collecta ambae Violae-Tricoloris L. progenies.  (4) Thea-Bohea L. species in mensae deliciis vera, et admodum diversa a Thee-Sinensium, sive Tsia-Japonica in hocce Bocconis Museo tab. 94 exculpta. (5) Coffea-arabica Linn. Coffeae-occidentalis exquisitior. (6) Aristolochia-longa vera officinarum regni neapolitani incola, quam plurimi pharmacopoei certe ignorant inscienterque Clematite pro longa Aristolochia utuntur et venditant. (7) Assarum-officinarum, cuius radices majori datae dosi exoticae Ipecachuanae succedaneae ex cel. Amico medico mihi ordinatae multoties suppeditavi. (8) Uva ursi officinarum herba in calculosis tam praestantior ne mihi cum (9) Vite-Idaea confunderetur libentius comparata (10) Croton-tinctorium primus credo inter botanicae peregrinatores Italiae Appeninorum incolam invenisse romani agri vinetis etiam familiarem; quam optandum Itali ad instar Belgii, Palli &c. pro re tinctoria adhiberent. (11) Comunissimum Solanum-nigrum, (12) Calendula-officinalis, (13) Prunus-spinosa, (14) Ageratum-officinarum, (15) Rosa-gallica, (16) Geranium-malacoides Linn; quae moenia Piceni urbium passim inhabitat, quarum conplurimas Florae Piceni catalogus, ac Prodromus iam incohatus enumerabat.  At optimorum mecenatum deficientia fataque adversa prohibuerunt.

Enjoy working through some of Cabrini’s Latin composition!  (The description of Jacea-Intybacea in particular has prompted a fair amount of head-scratching.)

Cabrini concludes his introduction with a lament about his lack of a patron as well as his “fata adversa.” If he was indeed based in Macerata, he was at a significant distance from the Italian hubs of botanical research, such as Pisa and Padua. Perhaps he had hoped to publish his additions to Boccone’s book, but found himself stymied by the complicated systems of scientific publication and patronage in eighteenth-century Europe.

Vitis Idaea Officinarum

Vitis Idaea Officinarum