Science and the Secrets of Nature

Science and the Secrets of Nature¬†is the first major treatment of Renaissance ‘books of secrets’, and of the printers who produced them. ‘Books of secrets’ were collections of recipes for the manufacture of dyes, pigments, soap, and homemade medicines, which might also contain lore on the occult powers of plants. The most influential model for the genre was the medieval¬†Secreta Alberti. But it was the unprecedented commercial success of Alessio Piemontese‚Äôs¬†De secreti del reverendo don Alessio Piemontese¬†(1555) that really launched the genre in sixteenth-century Italy.


William Eamon ( introduces us to academies of secrets in the household of the Medicis, in Naples, and in Venice. We learn about the printers who, in an increasingly competitive business, staked out a lucrative market in books of secrets. Paracelsus had his rivals in Italy, and virtuosi and scientific academies existed in Italy long before their more famous counterparts in seventeenth-century England.


Eamon has a broader aim. This is to show how the Italian tradition of secrets fits into the history of empiricism as a whole. He is especially concerned with its influence on the empiricism of Francis Bacon, and the subsequent understandings of modern science.


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520 pages in Princeton University Press

First published 1994

ISBN  978-0691034027


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Professor William Eamon

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