Chirurgia. De chirurgia scriptores optimi. (with) [anon.], De Vlceribus.

1) Zurich, Andreas Gessner and Hans Jakob Gessner, 1555; 2) manuscript leaf, probably German, second half of the sixteenth century.


Folio. 1) FIRST EDITION. ff. (x) 408 (xx); 2) ms. single sheet. 26.5 x 18.2 cm, 45 lines, on paper. 1) Roman with Italic letter, occasional Greek. Printer’s device to t-p and last, over 150 woodcuts of human figures, medical tools and body parts, decorated initials. Very light age yellowing, t-p a little dusty and shaved early on at foot, intermittent light marginal water stains, slight water stain to lower outer margin of a few ll., one blank outer corner torn away, the odd marginal ink spot. A very good, crisp, well-margined copy in contemporary probably Swiss pigskin over bevelled wooden boards, two clasps, a bit rubbed, marks to covers. Outer border with heads in roundels of Erasmus, Melanchthon and Luther separated by leafy curls, second with figures of Iusticia, Prudentia and Lucrecia, central panel with two rolls of pineapples. Spine in five compartments, raised bands, early ms title. Early annotations in at least two hands, 5-line early medical ref. to front pastedown, early casemark and ex-libris of Gabriel Ayala with Latin poem to fep, C17 autograph ‘Theodori Conerdingi’ to t-p, C16 printed and painted armorial ex-libris of Johannes Schenck to rear pastedown, early ms. medical notes in preceding leaf, marginal ms. paper slip to another.

2) MS, Latin. Brown-black ink in secretary hand. A little age browning, minor stains in places, small ink splash and traces of glue to reverse, occasional tiny holes affecting a few letters.

1) A very good, crisp copy of the first edition of this finely illustrated compendium of influential writings on surgery. Conrad Gesner (1516-65) studied natural and medical sciences at Basel, Montpellier, and Zurich. Most renowned for his masterpieces of zoology and botany, he worked as a doctor in Zurich throughout his life. The ‘Chirurgia’ is an epitome of authoritative ancient and more recent texts on surgical techniques and procedures, for practical reference. In the dedicatory matter to Francis I and the physicians Geryon Seiler, Jean Tagault and Petrus Cruselius, Gesner explains how he selected those texts from his own library to preserve for posterity the ‘art’ of surgery, which can overcome the limits of medicine and pharmacology by treating health conditions ‘by hand’. The introductory section details what makes a good surgeon: a sound knowledge of anatomy, manual dexterity, a solid understanding of what surgery is and its technical terminology, the effects of illnesses and their treatments. The collected texts by authors like Tagault, Oribasius, Blondus, Bologninus, Hollerius, and Galen, encompass surgical procedures for the treatment of tumours, gangrene, abscesses, ulcers, traumatic blows, bullet holes, different types of infected wounds and fractures (using the finely illustrated machines with ropes for the correct repositioning of broken bones), as well as techniques for bandage dressing and pain control. There is also a glossary of ‘surgical remedies’ divided by condition, which features boiled cannabis to be placed on infected wounds and ‘gumma arabica’ to speed up the healing of fractures. One of the annotators of this copy—probably Gabriel Ayala—highlighted passages on the amputation of septic limbs, the painkiller ‘Balsamum anodynum Guidonis’, arsenic for the treatment of wounds, and the effects of ‘lignum indicum’, a plant with antibacterial properties imported from the Caribbean, used on wounds. ‘Lignum indicum’ was also used to treat the symptoms of syphilis; in the section on ‘chirurgiae scriptores’, the annotator added marginalia concerning treatises on syphilis (‘morbus Gallicus’), including those by Cardano, Fracastorus, and Niccolò Leoniceno. The attractive woodcuts reveal the influence of Vesalius’s ground-breaking ‘De humani corporis fabrica’ (1543), which recruited the Renaissance classicising aesthetics of the human body for anatomical illustrations. For instance, the section concerned with the extraction of pointed weapons from limbs is illustrated with a naked male figure pierced by arrows, daggers and small cannon balls, modelled on the traditional iconography of the martyred St Sebastian.

The provenance is traced to the libraries of three renowned physicians. Gabriel Ayala from Antwerp studied at Louvain; he later moved to Brussels, where he became the city health officer and personal doctor to the great art and book collector Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle. Ayala’s Latin poem in this copy celebrates surgery as ‘the third sister of the art of medicine’, as it ‘treats diseases with a skilful hand’. Johannes Schenck von Grafenberg (1530-98) studied at Tübingen, and was the city physician in Freiburg im Breisgau. An influential medical practitioner, Schenck was a pioneering scholar of speech impairment caused by brain injuries and published his research in ‘Observationes medicae de capite humano’ (1584). Theodor (Dietrich) Conerding (1610-84) studied medicine in Denmark, Holland, Italy and France, and was the personal physician of Friedrich Wilhelm Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia.

2) The ms contains a medical practitioner’s notes on recipes for medicaments to be applied on wounds, based on Gabriele Falloppio’s ‘Libelli duo. Alter de ulceribus, alter de tumoribus praeter naturam’ (Venice, 1563) and ‘De ulceribus liber’ (Ehrfurt, 1577). In both, Falloppio—one of the most influential Renaissance medical scholars—discusses how to make and apply ointments made from herbs like mandragora, poppy seed, and terebinth. The ms includes the quantities advised by Falloppio as well as instructions on how to desiccate, break, and mix the ingredients.  

BM STC Ger. p. 357; Graesse II, 134; Wellcome I, 1460; Garrison-Morton 5562; Bib. Osleriana 643; NLM 960; Alden 555/20.


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