Pietro Antonio Michel’s Herbal in five books

Marciana Library, Venice, Ms It. II, 26-30 (= 4860-64), I cinque libri di piante

A few among the many Venetian garden owners compiled manuscripts describing the sheer number of varieties and the qualities of the plants that they grew. One was penned by the Venetian amateur Pietro Antonio Michiel (1510-1576): I cinque libri di piante, illustrated by Domenico dalle Greche and by other less skilled painters.

The noble Pietro Antonio Michiel owned a beautiful spacious garden in San Trovaso (see de Barbari’s Map), where he cultivated the local and exotic plants that he kept on describing and cataloguing from about mid-century until his death. The botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli referred to his garden as “noteworthy for the rare plants found there, as well as the aqueducts & the extremely rare grotesques that are admirably manufactured” (cf. P.A. Mattioli, I Discorsi… nelli sei libri di Pedacio Discoride Anazarbeo della materia medicinale, Venetia 1568, p. [21], Mattioli agli studiosi lettori).

Thanks to Michiel’s proven expertise as a de facto botanist, between 1551 and 1555 the Republic entrusted him with the care of the Botanical Garden of Padua, which served for the university education of future physicians, in collaboration with the prefect Anguillara.

The manuscript, now kept at the Marciana Library in Venice, was partially published in a 1940 edition by the botanist Ettore De Toni, who also annotated the text. Here you can enjoy both by flipping through the pages of the herbal and searching for a specific plant. Each plant is accompanied by a short description of a few entries by Michiel (not necessarily all of them present) with comments by De Toni: name, genus, shape, location, exposure, reproduction, seasonality, properties, discussions.

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Pietro Antonio Michiel, I cinque libri di piante. Codice Marciano, trascrizione e commento di Ettore De Toni (Venezia, 1940). Further references can be found on the respective pages.