Tractatus anatomicus triplex.

[Oppenheim?], per Iohann Thedoroum de Bry, 1613.


Folio. pp. (viii) 163 (xiii). Roman letter with Italic. Title within engraved architectural border with putti, female allegorical figures holding medical instruments, male as river, unidentified arms and cherubs, over 100 handsome anatomical engravings including geometrical schemas of ocular movements, decorated initials, typographical headpieces, edges speckled red. Light age yellowing, occasional mostly marginal ink spots, light browning to last gathering, publication date ‘M DC XIII’ on t-p amended by hand to ‘M DC XIV’. Excellent, crisp, well-margined copy, fresh and clean, in modern C17-style crushed morocco, minor scratches to upper cover, spine in six compartments, richly gilt, title gilt.

Excellent copy of this fundamental study on the anatomy and physiology of the eyes, ears, and vocal organs. Hyeronimus Fabricius ab Acquapendente (c.1533-1619) was one of the most renowned early modern anatomists, surgeons, and physicians, with interests spanning embryology, histology, and blood circulation. After earning a degree at Padua as a student of Gabriele Falloppio, he became professor of anatomy and surgery; by 1594, he had supervised to completion the construction of the famous ‘Teatro Anatomico’ of the university. Divided into three sections, the ‘Tractatus anatomicus triplex’ is a new edition—with the text re-set and re-engraved plates—of ‘De visione voce auditu’ (Venice, 1600), which summarised his ground-breaking findings. The first section is devoted to the anatomy and dissection of the eye in humans and animals, the physiology of vision and the function of the individual parts of the eye (with geometrical schemas showing ocular movements and the workings of visual focus). The second deals with the anatomy of the larynx, the way in which it ‘creates’ the voice in humans and animals, and the workings of its muscles and nerves. The last part discusses the anatomy of the ears and the function of hearing. The handsome engravings are considered a stepping stone in the transition from artistic to scientific anatomical illustrations in the Renaissance. Made after Acquapendente’s own working drawings, they were inspired by the style of the Paduan school started by Vesalius’s illustrations in ‘De humani corporis fabrica’ (1538). Unlike Vesalius, however, Acquapendente dispensed with any figurative elements contextually or aesthetically extraneous to the specific body parts he needed to visualise, which, in his engravings, are closely portrayed in masterful detail and didactic isolation.

The son of the famous Theodor de Bry, known for his numerous beautifully illustrated publications on the New World, Johann Theodor took over his father’s press in Frankfurt; in 1613, he relocated to Oppenheim, which is probably where this edition was prepared for publication, but only printed in the following year. The date on the t-p, where ‘M DC XIII’ appears to have been manually corrected to ‘M DC XIV’, would support this theory. This editorial alteration is present in most other recorded copies.

Wellcome Collection I, 2118; Heirs of Hippocrates 229 [both Venice eds]. Not in BL STC It. C17, Brunet, or Graesse. S.B. Smith, ‘From Ars to Scientia: The Revolution of Anatomic Illustration’, Clinical Anatomy 19 (2006), pp. 382-88.


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