The Margarita Philosophica, contains a world of knowledge but also has a very local quality to it. It was first published in Freiburg, possibly under Reisch’s supervision, and contains a hand-coloured woodcut illustration of the spire of Freiburg’s Gothic cathedral at the header of Chapter Twelve, ‘On rain’, just one of many featured illustrations. In Book Nine, ‘On the Origin of Natural Things’ there is a doubtful advertisement today in view of the touristic presentation of Freiburg and its locality for sunny weather (‘Über Baden lacht die Sonne’; ‘The sun laughs over Baden’). The woodcuts were designed by Alban Graf, a graduate of the University of Basel, who read a manuscript of the text in order to illustrate it relevantly, and the edition shown here was printed in Strasbourg. With the Margarita Philosophica capturing Freiburg, Basel and Strasbourg, a triangle of cities near each other, it also captures the wonderful story of the book’s origin and connections.
Yet the book’s impact was far from just local. Indeed, it was one of the most successful Renaissance examples of a work of its kind. Margarita Philosophica underwent at least twelve editions from its first publication in 1503 to 1600, and was used widely. Not only is it known to have been prescribed at some universities, such as Heidelberg and Louvain, but copies were recorded in university towns as far flung as Burgos, Innsbruck, Oxford and Cambridge. Thus the Margarita Philosophica helped to shape the world view of sixteenth-century educated men. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries it has been the subject of translations, facsimile reproductions, and some studies.