Stradanus generally presented his varied medicines and machines as positive developments, although then as now, the unknown brought unrest. Discussions about the long range of progress since antiquity was common at the time, with several publications of similar names appearing, such as Polydore Vergil’s De rerum inventoribus (1499) Guido Panciroli’s Nova reperta, sive rerum memorabilium recens inventarum (1602), and others assembling texts of recent advances as well. In contrast to these rather unadorned lists of things, Stradanus’s illustrations themselves become an innovation. But were nineteen (or more) innovations necessary? Statesman and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon summed up human progress slightly later on as including only the three most important innovations of all time. Indeed, these appear within the first ten Nova Reperta plates, as well as in the center of the title page:
“Printing, Gunpowder, and the Magnet … These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; whence have followed innumerable changes, insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.”
Other scholars who helped choose Stradanus’s top Renaissance inventions were the friends of his Florentine patron, Luigi Alamanni. Alamanni was part of the mysterious Academy of the Alterati (Altered Ones), and its members might have become involved in the subject matter and project financing, quite possibly during the Academy’s frequent sessions. Given the possibility that the group found inspiration in libations, modern viewers might find it fitting that distillation appeared in the Nova Reperta. Yet they might equally scratch their heads at the inclusion of the apparatus on the title page next to a pile of guaiacum, a wood newly found in the Americas, then considered a panacea (for syphilis, gout, and other common ailments).