Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio, ære exarata

London, [J. Kingston for] Thomas Gemini, 1559.


Folio. 40 of 42 plates, without the folded plate of two seated nude figures with moveable flaps, and one other anatomical plate, without the text. Beautiful engraved architectural title with portrait of Elizabeth I at centre, figure of Victory above, Justice and prudence at sides, putti below, the plates originally trimmed to the plate mark and mounted on large sheets with a second sheet carefully cut as a frame and mounted to the border of the plate, “Ce livre appartiene a Jean Rigole me. chirurgien” in C18th hand on pastedown, two notes dated 1693 in French hand on fly, another exlibris crossed out on verso of last. Light age yellowing with some dust soiling, mostly marginal water stain to head of a few ll., the odd marginal thumb mark and spot. An attractive and unsophisticated copy in contemporary limp vellum, covers a little creased and stained, large tear with loss to outer edge of lower cover, tears to e.p.s. 

The rare third edition of this suite of anatomical engraved plates, the first copper plate engravings of importance to appear in England, remarkably preserved in their original limp vellum binding. Born in Belgium, Thomas Gemini, (a pseudonym for Thomas Lambrit) came to London to work as an engraver, instrument maker and printer. His chief work was the Compendiosa, this illustrated anatomy, which was a direct plagiarism of Andreas Vesalius’s great De fabrica humani corporis libri septem and Suorum de humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, printed in 1543. Gemini engraved forty copper plates based on the woodcuts in Vesalius’s works, copying the originals fairly closely but omitting the landscape and architectural backgrounds which appear in the woodcuts. It was Gemini’s intention to present Vesalius’s work in a more popular form, and in this he was highly successful – five editions claiming to be his Compendiosa were published in England between 1545 and 1559, of which this is one. The text of the English editions, however, was not based on Gemini’s plagiarism of Vesalius, although they bore his name, but were derived from the work of the French author Henri de Mondeville. Vesalius, for one, was not flattered – in a letter of 1546 he attacked his ‘incompetent imitators’ for doing an injustice to the quality, anatomical and artistic, of his original blocks. But plagiarism and piracy were condoned, when publications did not have the protection of modern copyright. Whatever Vesalius’s opinion, Gemini’s engravings are considered to be the first copper engravings of importance to appear in an English book. Geminus was not interested in aesthetic appearance as Vesalius had been. His was a much more directly practical approach, and when he came to copy the beautiful full-page figures he eliminated all extraneous detail, notably the imaginative landscapes which had made Vesalius’s illustrations so attractive. Geminus decided to print his plates on separate sheets. This broke the connection between text and image that had been a part of the original Basle publication; in many cases he had to put together images that had been scattered over different pages in order to form composite plates. They satisfied their fundamental purpose, however, and even after the last of the London editions the plates continued to have a life in France. Jacques Grévin, a French poet and pupil of Ronsard, who was also a physician and medical writer had André Wechel print editions of Geminus’s work in Paris in 1564, 1565 and in a French translation in 1569, using Geminus’s copperplates. It is possible that this copy was originally made up for export to France as the text with its prefaces in English were, it seems, never bound in. This edition has an engraved frontispiece incorporating a portrait of a young Elizabeth I, although the fact that it does not resemble any other contemporary portraits may indicate that it was a hasty adaptation of one cut for Mary I. The first important suite of anatomical engravings published in England.

ESTC S115175. STC 11718. Hind I. 39-46.


Print This Item Print This Item