The book title de gli obelischi di Roma can be translated as “On the Obelisks of Rome”. The book appears to be an in-depth survey of Egyptian obelisks and their presence in Rome. In Pharaonic Egypt, obelisks were placed in front of temples. They were considered solar symbols.
Michele Mercati (1541 – 1593) the author of the book studied Medicine and Philosophy at the University of Pisa. He was considered a public intellectual and was interested in a wide range of topics including natural history, mineralogy, palaeontology and botany. Interestingly, another book he wrote was the museum of stones, Metallotheca Vaticana, which is related to the publication of interest here. Mercati was the first scientist to discover prehistoric stone tools. He was also a collector of fossils and minerals. Interestingly for the book at hand, he was responsible for the restoration of the Lateran Obelisk.
The table of contents of the book reveals the richness of knowledge Mercati accumulated about obelisks. The many chapters of the book cover the background of the obelisks, what for, by whom and how the obelisks were made as well as their cultural-religious context. Mercati also included a chapter on the hieroglyphs inscribed in the large stones and a comparative study of different obelisks. Several chapters are about Egyptian Kings and their respective obelisks. Mercati also asks who invented them in the first place. Several Chapters towards the end of the book are about the obelisks in Rome, how they got there and the attempt of Romas to copy them, consecrate them and new methods of straightening these large objects.
Looking at the layout of the book which includes side notes supports the idea that the book was was written as a scientific in-depth discussion of the Egyptian obelisks and their presence in Rome. Possibly it was written for a specialist community but also as a contribution to the general understanding of architectural or maybe rather artistic artefacts.