BIDLOO, Govert.

BIDLOO, Govert. Anatomia humani corporis

Amsterdam, for the widow of Joannes van Someren, the heirs of Joannes van Dyk, Henry Boom and widow of Theodore Boom, 1685


FIRST EDITION. Large folio, 174 unnumbered ll. Roman letter, woodcut floriated initials and tailpieces. Beautifully engraved allegorical frontispiece, printer’s device to t-p, large oval portrait of Bidloo on fol. X7 signed ‘G. Lairesse pinx[it]’ and ‘A. Bloteling sculp[sit]’ with calligraphic caption and poem in elegiac couplets below, 105 engraved numbered anatomical plates in lovely clean clear impression (n. 23 folding, n. 10 in two parts). Intermittent very light foxing and ink marks mainly to margins, a few early repairs to lower edges and one corner of text without loss, very small tear to blank upper edge of frontispiece. An excellent wide-margined copy in contemporary Dutch calf, covers gilt ruled to a panel design, first border with gilt floral roll, second with gilt fleurons at corners and arabesque centrepiece, spine with raised bands and gilt ornaments at centres, rebacked,upper joint cracked but solid. Brass bosses to corners.

Stunning first edition of this anatomical atlas by Bidloo, in a fine contemporary binding. It includes a set of impressive plates that depict anatomical specimens in nearly life-size proportions.

Govert Bidloo (1649-1713) was a Dutch anatomist, professor and personal physician of William III of England. He was also a prolific opera librettist and playwright, author of the libretto for the first-ever Dutch opera in 1686. Credited with various medical discoveries, he studied anatomy in Amsterdam under the renowned Frederic Ruysch (1638-1731) and published ‘Anatomia humani corporis’ only three years after graduating. In this work, the human body is represented starting from the skin, moving on to the internal structures of the head, chest, and abdomen, the male and female reproductive organs (including stages of foetal development), muscles, and finally the skeletal bones of adults and children.

The 105 splendidly engraved plates, frontispiece and portrait of the author were drawn by the famous Dutch painter Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1611). Highly successful in Amsterdam, Lairesse’s popularity surpassed even that of Rembrant at the end of the 17th century. Original in pattern and artistic in design, Bidloo’s plates break the idealistic tradition of Vesalian woodcuts for the first time: “Lairesse displayed the flayed corpses and the dissected parts in the most naturalistic way, including all the equipment such as the pins and the blocks that prop up the dissected parts […] The figures are artistically arranged with ordinary objects such as books, jars and cabinets placed in the same scene as cut-up torsos or limbs. In this work Lairesse brought the qualities of Dutch still-life painting to anatomical illustration” (Hagelin). In the title page, Bidloo proudly states that the plates were delineated “ad vivum” and it is possible that some of the dissections were especially done for the production of the atlas. Remarkably, detailed depictions of skin and hair were obtained thanks to the use of a microscope – Bidloo’s description of the papillary ridges of the thumb (plate 4) is a pioneering scientific observation that laid the foundation of forensic identification through fingerprints.

“The plates are considered among the finest illustrations of the Baroque period” (Heirs of Hippocrates) and the engravings, possibly realised by the skilled engravers Abraham Bloteling or Peter and Philip VanGunst, are “elegantly done and artistically perfect” (Choulant). Though praised for their artistic merit, the plates have been criticised for being anatomically imprecise. Nonetheless, they were reprinted by the English surgeon William Cowper in his Anatomy of the Humane Bodies (1698), which gave no credit to Bidloo or Lairesse. This is one of the most famous acts of plagiarism in the history of medicine, which lead to an exchange of polemics between the two anatomists.

Heirs of Hippocrates 435; Hagelin p. 108; Brunet I, p. 936; Graesse I, p. 419; Wellcome II, p. 165; Garrison-Morton 385; Choulant p. 250; NLM 17 th cent. 1238. Not in USTC.

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