Catalogue 32
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[SWIMMING] BERNARDI, Oronzio de’. Arte de Nadar. Madrid, Imprenta de Alban, 1807.

8vo [14.3 x 10.3 cm], (1) f. engraved title, 190 pp., XI full-page single-sided engravings interleaved in text. Quarter bound in contemporary brown calf, brown and green mottled boards, brown marbled endpapers, green silk ribbon bookmark, sprinkled edges. Minor spotting in places, marginal paper loss at p. 187, otherwise quite clean.


Rare first Spanish edition (first Italian in 1794) of this attractive illustrated work propounding the “Bernardi Method” of swimming, which, both in terms of the history of swimming and illustrated books on the subject, had an influence in the late 18th and early 19th century equal to that of Melchisédech Thévenot (1620-92) in the 17th century. The work goes far beyond being an instructional manual touching on areas as diverse as comparative anatomy, iatro-mechanics, respiration, hydrostatics, and even the design and architecture of swimming pools.

The engravings of this Spanish edition are reductions of eleven of the ambitiously artistic designs (rather more fanciful than one would expect in a didactic work of this nature) originally produced for the earlier Italian edition, after drawings by Francesco Antonio Lapegna (1769-1817). Although purportedly drawn from life, the subjects are embellished with considerable fantasia, not infrequently resembling ancient statuary, and here and there bordering on risqué. This combination of science, erudition and a slightly indulgent taste for decadent illustration – all devoted to an activity generally viewed at the time as eccentric – makes the work an interesting and representative document of the colorful milieu of late 18th-century Naples as received by readers in early 19th-century Madrid.

Apart from this work, nothing is known of Oronzio de’ Bernardi, a lawyer and holder of honorific ecclesiastical titles, although the first edition’s warm dedication to the minister of the Neopolitan Navy, Sir John Acton, suggests that Bernardi held an “insider” position at Court.

OCLC locates U.S. copies at the NYPL, UC San Diego, and Harvard; a further copy is held at the Hispanic Society of America.

* * Palau 28241; Hispanic Society of America, vol. 2, p. 1002; Piñal, vol. 9. p. 47, no. 287; Minerva, vol. VIII (1807), pp. 97-104; Ralph Thomas, Swimming, pp. 91-2 and 215-18; Bénezit VI.442; Riccardi 1.118; Villani 129/80 (the first edition); Poggendorf (the first).

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