Pérez De Vargas, Bernardo

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(b. Madrid, Spain, ca. 1500–1533),

astronomy, biology, metallurgy.

Few biographical data are known of Pérez de Vargas. His parents were of distinguished lineage, hence the title of “magnifico” which he appended to his name. From Madrid he moved to the province of Malaga; in one of his works he described himself as a resident of Coin, a town of that province. In 1563 he published the Repertorio perpetuo o f´brica del universo. There are extant copies of only the second part of this work. Most Spanish bibliographers, including Colmeiro and Navarrete, believed that both parts were published, although Tamayo gave the opinion that the first part remained as a manuscript in folio, the whereabouts of which is unknown. Palau has suggested that the Sumario de cosas notables, published in 1560, is the aforementioned first part.

The Repertorio perpetuo, as the second half of its title indicates, dealt with the “structure of the universe.” It discussed such subjects as the nature of matter, the age of the globe and man, time and its measurements, astrology, the proper times for purges and bloodletting, and lunar and solar eclipses.

Pérez de Vargas’ most important workm however, was on metallurgy, De re metalica; this work was published in 1568, although it bore a royal license dated 1564. It was composed of nine books, varying from five to twenty-five chapters, and contained thirteen illustrations. Starting from a philosophical discussion of the form and matter of metals, Pérez de Vargas admitted the possibility of alchemy. The work and proceeded to discuss mining and the smelting and development of metals and minerals. Diego de Meneses, who had owned and worked mines in the New world for thirty years, wrote the preface; he recommended the circulation of De re metalica among the miners of Peru and in other parts of America, where he had observed that much gold and silver was lost owing to a lack of adequate knowledge concerning refining processes.

Despite Pérez de Vargas’ assertion in the introduction that the contents of his book were culled from the works of many famous authors and that the greater part of it had been subjected to experimentation, De re metalica was largely copied, with some paragraphs lifted in full, from Vannuccio Biringuccio’s more meritorious Pirotechnia (1540). Pérez de Vargas referred to some mines in Spain not mentioned by Biringuccio, but his dependence on the latter would explain the absence of any mention of the development of quicksilver and the process of amalgamation, already known in Spain and America; amalgamation was Probably of Spanish origin.

Nonetheless, De re metalica was useful because it was the first extensive book on metallurgy in Spanish. Although there was a Spanish translation of Glanville’s De proprietatibus rerum in the fifteenth century, the scope of this work was not as extensive as De re metalica.


I. Original Works. Pérez de Vargas’ works are Sumario de cosas notables (Toledo, 1560); Repertorio perpetuo o fábrica del universo (Toledo, 1563); De re metalica (Madrid, 1568); and “De los edificios y m´quinas que pertenecen al arte de laborar los metales,” a work (probably a MS) referred to by Pérez de Vargas in one of his works but of which there are no extant copies. There is a two-volume French trans. of De re metalica entitled Traité singulier de métallique (Paris, 1743).

II. Secondary Literature. On Pérez de Vargas and his work, see Eugenio Maffei and Ramän Rua Figueroa, Apuntes para una biblioteca espa¯ola, 2 vols. (Madrid, 1873); and Felipe Picatoste y Rodriquez, Apuntes para una biblioteca cientifica espanola del siglo XVI (Madrid, 1891).

Vicente R. Pilapil

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Pérez De Vargas, Bernardo

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