Pietro Andrea Mattioli's Commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis de medica materia, is an herbal that established its creator as an international authority on specimens that would revolutionize European medicine, culture, and trade. As Mattioli’s fame rose in Prague in the 1560s, he gained notoriety for his vicious retaliation against colleagues who questioned his classifications. Esteemed botanists Luigi Anguillara and Conrad Gessner were among his targets, and Amatus Lusitanus, a Portugese Jew, was mysteriously denounced to the Spanish Inquisition after an argument.

This spread depicts "Aconitum," or wood cranesbill. It is from one of two existing copies of the 1565 edition of the work that feature highlighted illustrations in silver and gold, an innovation that Mattioli described as "the most rare thing of this kind that has ever been seen."

“Aconitum” is a woodland plant native to Europe and northern Turkey. In summer, its purple to blue flowers bloom on deeply toothed ruffs of leaves. The “Aconitum” woodcut belongs to a series of three illustrations of the genus printed in the Commentarii. One of its species, monkshood (Aconitum napellus), was used by Mattioli in a notorious experiment that tested the effect of its poison on condemned prisoners, which historian J.J. Anderson describes as an additional "blemish on Mattioli's career."


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