De chirurgica institutione libri quinque.

Paris, apud Chrestien Wechel, 1543.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. (lxvii) 421 (iii). Italic letter, little Roman. Printer’s woodcut device to t-p and verso of last leaf, 10 full-page woodcuts of wounded bodies, skeletons and surgical instruments, decorated initials, head- and tailpieces. Upper margin of t-p slightly soiled at head, strenghtened at gutter, light waterstaining to upper edges, small paper flaw to lower margin of p. 95, couple of gatherings lightly age yellowed, minimal marginal spotting. Very good, well-margined copy in C16 polished calf, single blind ruled, rebacked, largely remounted spine, raised bands, covers rubbed, minor repair to corners. Early ex-libris ‘Michaelis Bretin doct[oris] med[icinae]’, autograph ‘M. Ballaren (?)’ and erased inscription to t-p, small doodle inked to rear pastedown.

Remarkably fresh, well-margined copy of the first edition of this handsomely illustrated work on surgery including the first edition of Jacques Houllier’s ‘De materia chirurgica’. Jean Tagault (c.1486-1546), of whom we possess little biographic information, studied medicine and later taught at Paris after visiting Padua. ‘De chirurgica institutione’ was his first major work, soon translated into Italian and French. It brought together, in accomplished Ciceronian rhetoric, Greek and Arabic medical theories which still had not been fully rediscovered, and the wisdom of medieval French physicians like Guy de Chauliac; these were integrated with Tagault’s own skilled practice for which he was called ‘the restorer of surgery’ (Biesbrouck et al. ‘Jean Tagault (c.1486-1546)’, 13-14). Published the same year as ‘De humani corporis fabrica’ by Vesalius, with whom Tagault had studied, ‘De chirurgica institutione’ was oriented less towards anatomical theory than surgery applied to specific cases—particularly war wounds (no one elected for surgery in the C16), handsomely illustrated in the full-page woodcuts of a St Sebastian-like figure pierced by endless weapons and in the depiction of emergency surgery on the battlefield. It examined surgical techniques and medicaments to treat traumatic conditions, like fractures, as well as ailments like tumours ‘against nature’, fever-induced seizures or vascular erosion. This copy belonged to the French surgeon Michel Bretin from Manlay, who had studied at Montpellier and started practicing at Autun in 1757 (Guyton, ‘Recherches historiques’, 172, 218)—a testimony to the long-standing importance of this work for medical practitioners.  

USTC 140825; NLM 4296; Wellcome (later ed.); BM STC Fr., p. 412. Not in Osler or Mortimer. L.M. Guyton, Recherches historiques sur les médecines et la médecine à Autun (Autun, 1874); M. Biesbrouck et al., ‘Jean Tagault (c.1486-1546)’, Monte Artium 10 (2017), 7-63.

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