A history, based on extensive study of the classical literature, of the attitudes and practices of the Greeks and Romans concerning diet, hygiene, bathing, and exercise. This is one of the earliest books to discuss the therapeutic value of gymnastics and sports generally for the cure of disease and disability, and an important study of gymnastics in the ancient world.
The second edition, De arte gymnastica libri sex, Venice, Juntas, 1573, was the first illustrated book on gymnastics. It contains 20 unsigned woodcuts usually attributed to Christoph Lederer of Nuremberg, who assumed the name of Coriolanus after moving to Italy. These illustrations drawn by Pirro Ligorio "can now be shown to be the result of imaginative reconstruction, or straightforward forgery...unknown to his [Mercuriale's] readers, who assumed that images confirmed the truth of what Mercuriale had deduced from the evidence of texts.... The argument and illustrations in De arte gymnastica demonstrated the prime place of gymnastics in Greece and Rome, and later, convinced Winckelmann of the importance of nudity in Greek civilization and art" (Vivian Nutton, "Mercurale, Girolamo", Grafton et al (eds.), The classical tradition  pp. 582-83.) Digital facsimile of the 1573 edition from the Internet Archive at this link.