De dissectione partium corporis.

Paris, Simon de Colines, 1545.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. (xxiv) 375 [=379] (i). Roman letter, little Italic. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, 62 full-page and over 40 smaller woodcut illustrations of skeletons, bodies and organs, decorated initials and ornaments. T-p finger soiled, tear from upper outer blank corner, repair to upper margin of A8, very small stain to B8, occasional light yellowing and mainly marginal foxing, small light water stain and few minor tears at lower gutter of last two gatherings. An excellent copy in C17 calf, upper joint repaired at head, raised bands and gilt fleurons and cornerpieces, edges speckled red. Purchased from Rappaport, Rome, 1912 (ffep), ex-libris ‘Roth’ give by Dr Daniel Burkhart 1889 (t-p).

Handsome copy of the first edition of this stunningly illustrated anatomy book with the detailed woodcuts in excellent impression. Charles Estienne (1504-64) was a renowned physician, author of fundamental works on anatomy, and a printer along with his famous brother, Robert, with a side-interest in natural science. In addition to illustrating revolutionary theories like the existence of a canal within the spinal cord, ‘De dissectione’ shared their concern as to the importance of understanding human physiology through a study of the human body and not, like Galen, by drawing conclusions from anatomical studies of other animals. It discussed the bones, muscles, cartilage, ligaments, brain, nervous system, reproductive organs and much more. The magnificent visual apparatus, intended as an aide-mémoire, is a priceless witness to anatomical images before Vesalius. Indeed, although printed two years later, Estienne’s work was finished in 1539 and its publication delayed by the law suit of the surgeon Estienne de la Rivière, who assisted him with the dissections and drawings and questioned Estienne’s full authorship. The woodcuts were made by talented artists like Geoffroy Tory, Jean Jollat and Rosso de’ Rossi. Choulant describes the work as ‘particularly excellent; the female figures are the best’. Their designs have been rated as ‘mannered, even surrealistic’ for the way they portray corpses or skeletons within landscapes and architectures, in extravagant poses, as if they were alive (e.g., the man picking up something from the ground, showing his exposed brain whilst his half skull is hanging from a nearby tree). They were probably based on woodcuts not intended for anatomical illustrations; hence the poses and multi-piece construction of some in which the organs were added on a separate block (Sawday, ‘The Body Emblazoned’). ‘The artists working under Estienne’s direction used an extremely refined system of thin and…minutely varied strokes forms’, especially hatching, which allowed the artists ‘to represent the directions of the muscular fasciculi, or fibres, which differ from muscle to muscle’ as well as their sundry textures (Laurenza, ‘Art and Anatomy’, 23). The text is actually more instructive than the illustrations ‘and is particularly significant from the view point of the history of anatomic discoveries, since Estienne himself was a dissector, and began his work long before Vesalius’ (Choulant).

A medical work of both textual merit and beautiful illustration. ‘Had “De dissectione” been published in 1539, there is no question that it would have stolen much of the thunder from Vesalius’ “Fabrica”…Despite its tardy appearance, however, “De dissectione” was able to make numerous original contributions to anatomy, including the first published illustrations of the whole external and venous nervous systems, and descriptions of the morphology and purpose of the “feeding holes” of bones, the tripartite composition of the sternum, the valvulae in the hepatic veins and the scrotal septum, In addition, the work’s eight dissections of the brain give more anatomical detail than had previously appeared’ (Norman 728).

‘The illustrations are the earliest, except those of Leonardo, in which whole systems, venous, arterial or nervous are shown. Estienne’s best department is perhaps that of arthrology. He was the first to trace blood vessels into the substance of bone. He was the first to remark upn the valves of the veins. The most remarkable of his observations is that of the canal of the spinal cord’ (Singer).

‘One of the finest woodcut books of the French Renaissance, in which art and science are ideally merged’ (Schreiber 222).

‘This magnificent folio volume is one of the finest of all anatomical treatises’ (‘Heirs of Hippocrates’ 153).

Durling 1391; Wellcome I, 6076; Choulant, Anatomy, 152-55; Harvard French C16, 213; Renouard, Colines, 1520-46, 409-10; Schreiber, Simon de Colines, 222. D. Laurenza, Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2012); J. Sawday, The Body Emblazoned (London, 1995).

Print This Item Print This Item