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REUCHLIN, Johannes. De Arte Cabalistica Libri Tres. Hagenau, Thomas Anselm, 1517.

Small folio [29.5 x 18.5 cm], (4), 79 (1) ff., including author's woodcut arms on title as well as numerous passages of Hebrew and Greek, with several woodcut Cabbalistic figures (LXXXVIII v) A4,B6-N6,O8. Bound in 17th-century stiff vellum, calf title label gilt. Ownership inscription of D. Wyttenbach 1786 on front endleaf. Later purchase inscription from Payne & Foss 1824 10/. Discrete former library stamp on verso of final leaf; early marginalia cropped at time of rebinding. Apart from even toning, fresh, unsophisticated copy, excellent.


Scarce first edition and fine copy of Reuchlin’s cabalistic studies, ‘la Bible de la Kabbale Chrétienne’ (Secret, Les Kabbales Chrétiennes de la Renaissance, p. 57). The work is written in the form of a conversation between the Jew Simon, the Muslim Marranus, and the Pythagorean Philolaus, who gather at Simon’s home in Frankfurt. “The interest in the Cabbala, promoted among the Christian humanists in the Renaissance by Pico della Mirandola, culminated in the works on Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522): De verbo mirifico (1494) and De arte cabalistica (1517); the latter work in a sense became the Christian cabbalist’s Bible.

“In De arte cabalistica, Reuchlin incorporated Pythagorean ideas on number mysticism and metempsychosis; notions which Pythagoras shared with Cabbala and which made him a ‘Greek cabbalist’. Reuchlin describes the Cabbala as an alchimia, internalising external perceptions into images and thoughts and eventually into light. The process of becoming like god is symbolized by the position of Adam Kadmon in the middle of the seraphic tree” (F. van Lamoen, The Hermetic Gnosis. Catalogue of Exhibition in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, 37).

Reuchlin promoted the study of Greek and is credited with introducing neo-Latin comedy into his native Germany, but it is his pioneering study of Hebrew language and Cabbala—the latter undertaken under the aegis of Pico—which gained him lasting significance. He used his extensive travels to make contacts with other humanists and other Jews and to acquire manuscripts and printed books for his library, one of the most substantial of its time (Contemporaries of Erasmus).

* Adams R-381; Proctor 11,685; Benzing (Reuchlin) 99; Caillet 9333; Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 198.

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