Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy

Italian Pharmacopoeias. A general survey. Part I (XV-XVI Centuries)

Strictly speaking, it was not a pharmacopoeia, but rather a practical tool, a truly illuminating resource for physicians and apothecaries that, notwithstanding its limits, would soon become a standard source in several cities for over a century.
The first true Italian pharmacopoeia, the Ricettario Fiorentino, was created in Florence five years later, by order of the local Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries. This interesting work was published “in folio” on 21 January 1499. The date on the frontispiece is 1498 but, until 1750, the year in Florence did not begin on 1 January but 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation, the day on which the angel told Mary she would have a baby. So this date is “Florentine Style” and 1498 must be read as 1499, according to our calendar. All the apothecaries of the Florentine State were required to use this official pharmaceutical manual so the remedies would be made in the same way everywhere. For the first time, we have a description of the physical appearance of the ideal pharmacist: “D’ingegno et di corpo destro, di buoni costumi, non avaro e fedele”. Also the architectural features of a spezieria are well illustrated: “Posta in un luogo ove non possino venti o sole”, far from “fumi o mali odori”, rich with rooms, “acciocché possa comodamente preparare e conservare ogni sorte di medicina”, with a garden or a terrace “dove dia el sole, acciò possi seccare e imbiancare alcune sorti di medicine”.
Another interesting handbook, not a pharmacopoeia but a real source of knowledge for physicians and apothecaries, is the edition by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, of the treatise of medical matter by Pedanius Dioscorides, printed in Venice in 1544, “per Niccolò de’ Bascarini da Pavone”. The title was clear: Di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo libri cinque dell’historia et materia medicinale tradotti in lingua volgare italiana da M. P. Matthiolo sanese, medico. The work was published also in Latin and the 1554 edition is filled with 562 small woodcut images of plants. With such a large number of images and with clear and exhaustive explanations, this text was really necessary for the best preparations of herbal remedies and had a large diffusion not only in Italy but in all of Europe. Reprinted many times, translated in the most important foreign languages, it was a main point of reference for pharmaceutics.
After a few years, a real pharmacopoeia appeared in Mantua, where it had been compiled. It was an official Antidotarium ex multis optimisque authoribus collectum, castigatum et accurate digestum, printed in Venice by Valgrisi in 1559. The work was simpler than the Ricettario Fiorentino, or than Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s learned pages. There was also another exceptional manual in the Fabrica de gli Spetiali by Prospero Borgarucci, again published by Valgrisi, a clever printer, in 1566. Creating a rich tapestry of all the pharmaceutical techniques, Borgarucci’s words in the frontispiece were truly eloquent: Dove s’insegna di comporre perfettamente tutte le sorti de medicamenti che più si costumano nella medicina, cioè conditi, conserve, sape, giulebbi, siroppi, lambitivi, decottioni, infusioni, elettuarii, pilole, trocisci, collirii, polveri, olii, unguenti, ceroti et empiastri. His sources were “Diversi antidotari di medici antichi et moderni”, but the most important aspect throughout the volume was the attention to Regole et modi di prepararli et conservargli, con la dichiaratione di molti semplici che nelle compositioni de medicamenti sono compresi, con la correzione delle dosi, pesi, misure et succedanei et con tutto quello che a un perfetto spetiale saper si conviene.
The perfect apothecary was not a dream and Florence saw two new editions of Ricettario Fiorentino in 1550 and in 1567. In particular the 1550 edition of the famous pharmacopoeia, printed by Torrentino, the Florentine state’s official printer, is exceptional for its new acquisitions, after the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru, offering proof of the close link between policy and pharmacy. Not by chance do we see the rich coat-of-arms of the Medici family under the title. The 1567 edition, printed by Giunti in Florence, is marvelous because of the frontispiece, with the portraits of elegantly dressed Cosma and Damianus, and the delicious little angels that preparing remedies with various utensils.
In Bologna, an interesting Antidotarium also appeared in 1574 that was compiled with the work of Ulisse Aldrovandi, the most important naturalist of that time. The book, filled with surrogate elements for preparing remedies, had a magnificent new edition in Bologna in 1596, “Apud Victorium Benacium”. In the architectural frontispiece, under the town’s coat-of-arms, Cosma and Damianus are standing and two tables are present inside the volume: Una praesidiorum. Altera morborum. Bergamo too wanted to have an official pharmaceutical manual so, in 1580, the Pharmacopoea seu de usitatiorum medicamentorum componendorum ratione, liber appeared, printed by Ventura Comini in that Lombard town, by order of the Collegii medicorum Bergomiensium. The volume clearly expresses the concept of public health. The figure of the apothecary is increasingly linked to the laws and to the rules of the state in which he worked.

(Giovanni Cipriani, University of Florence ,