De humani corporis fabrica.

Venice, apud Franciscum Franciscium Senensem, & Ioannem Criegher Germanum, 1568.


Folio. pp. (xii) 510 (xlvi). Roman letter, little Italic. Woodcut vignette to t-p, nearly 200 superb full- and half-page or smaller woodcuts of limbs or organs, decorated initials. T-p a little soiled and light water stain to edges, lower outer corner repaired, light water stain and small worm holes to some lower outer corners, very minor marginal spotting, lower outer blank corner of V6 and X1 defective. A good copy in contemporary alum-tawed sheep, raised bands, joints repaired at head. Bookplate c.1700 of Dr François Petit of Soissons to front pastedown, C17 autograph ‘Degreaux’ to lower margin of t-p, contemporary autograph ‘Joannes Ducanois Vanos Deo vincas’ to rear pastedown, occasional early marginalia.     

A good copy of this ground-breaking, beautifully illustrated work which changed the history of Western medical scholarship. ‘The history of anatomy is divided into two periods, pre-Vesalian and post-Vesalian’ (PMM 71), the turning point being the year 1543, when the first edition was published in Basel by Johannes Oporinus, among the best printers of his day. He was chosen for the purpose by the Belgian surgeon Andreas Vesalius (1514-64), then professor at Padua, who used dissection as an epistemological means to reassess Galen’s claims. The nearly 200 illustrations in Vesalius’s works are attributed to Jan Stephan van Calcar, a talented pupil of Titian; they were cut in Venice, under Vesalius’s watch, and dispatched to Basel with instructions printed in ‘Fabrica’. The woodcuts in this posthumous edition, published without license, are ‘reduced copies of the blocks of the first, plus 8 additions produced in 1555; they were cut in Venice by Giovanni Chrieger’ (Mortimer). ‘Fabrica’ is divided into 7 books, head to heel, on bones and cartilage, ligaments and muscles, blood vessels, nerves, organs of nutrition and reproduction, the heart and the brain. Rather than relying on animal bodies (as Galen had to do) or the ancillary work of barber-surgeons, Vesalius performed the procedure himself with techniques carefully described in ‘Fabrica’ and its abridged ‘Epitome’ for students. He described the dissected body in minute verbal and visual detail—e.g., the bones of the spine and chest, immortalised on the full-page skeletons and skinned cadavers in pensive, classical or agonising poses—even providing hands-on comparisons for practitioners (e.g., the ‘accessory ossicles’ in hands were comparable to ‘sesame seeds’). The early annotator of this copy was interested in the womb and female reproductive organs—the position of the cervix, how to know the gender of the foetus from its position in the belly and the physiology of the hymen. The plates, cut through direct observation, ‘set new technical standards of anatomical illustration, and indeed of book illustration in general’ (PMM 71), inspiring reproductions and imitations well into the C18. A fresh copy of this classic of anatomical art.

From the library of François Petit (1681-1766) of Soissons, first physician to the Duke of Orleans.

BM STC It., p. 722; Osler 569; Mortimer, Harvard It., 529; Heirs of Hippocrates, 174; NLM 4580; Wellcome (other eds); PMM 71 (1543 ed.).


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