VESLING, Johann.


VESLING, Johann. Syntagma anatomicum

Padua, Paolo Frambotto, 1647


4to, 26 unnumbered leaves, manuscript + engravings (no letterpress). Handsome engraved t-p depicting the anatomical theatre at Padua, full-page portrait of author, 24 full-page anatomical plates with contemporary manuscript key and description on preceding leaf (italic cursive, double column). T-p a bit browned with small tears from upper outer corner and lower edge, marginal fingersoiling, portrait of author and 11 plates very lightly ink stained in places, waterstain to upper inner corner of 7 plates, last stained and repaired at gutter, lower edge of preceding text trimmed at foot with loss of final line. A good copy in old carta rustica, later endpapers, stub from a French work c.1800.

Fascinating and unique combination of anatomical plates and contemporary manuscript description. The volume includes the 24 illustrations of Vesling’s popular anatomical treatise ‘Syntagma anatomicum’, with the engraved title page of 1647 and a portrait of the author. However, the first 13 leaves bear signature marks (A-A13) which do not appear in any edition and also lack their typical headings. No other collection of Vesling’s plates, bound together as a distinct volume, is known.

‘Syntagma anatomicum’ is Vesling’s most successful work, and the illustrations “were very popular at the time of their appearance and have been frequently re-engraved” (Choulant). ‘’Syntagma’ went through many editions during the second half of the 17 th century; the second of 1647 was the first to include this frontispiece, the portrait and 24 plates as well as text. A counterfeit version by Johannes Janssonius appeared in Amsterdam the same year, but the engravings in the present volume are the original Italian set. The description of the plates, here manuscript in a French or Flemish contemporary hand, largely corresponds to the 1666 edition, considerably enlarged and improved by the Dutch anatomist Gerardus Leonardus Blasius. The ms. text here is different: it contains cross- references within itself, the descriptions of pls. VII-X and XIII-XXIV are untitled and unnumbered, those for pls. I, XI and XII contain text that never appeared in print, for pl. X part of the standard text is missing, and pl. IV description has ‘concava’ instead of ‘convexa’.

It seems that this copy was designed to be consulted separately from Vesling’s long treatise; such a small and portable atlas of the human body in a very simple lightweight binding would have been particularly useful during dissection demonstrations in universities. The combination of Blasius’ improved text and the 24 original Paduan engravings was innovative, and it was presumably the composition of a student or a professor from northern Europe. A printed edition comprising these two elements was published only in 1677 and at Padua, with the engraved frontispiece modified and more plates included.

Johann Vesling (1598-1649) was a German anatomist and botanist. A native of Minden, he studied medicine in Vienna and lived for some time in Egypt and Palestine. In 1632, he became professor of anatomy and surgery at Padua and later director of the botanical garden of the university. In ‘Syntagma anatomicum’, “Vesling aimed to explain the parts of the body as they were encountered during dissection and to avoid discussion of theoretical matters in order not to create confusion. However, he departed from his stated purpose to give a clear picture of the circulation of the blood and action of the heart based on Harvey's research. His descriptions of the lymphatics and assertion that four pulmonary veins normally empty into the heart's left auricle are of particular scientific significance.” (Heirs of Hippocrates). The plates “were intended for the commonest needs but are mostly original engravings and represent some organs of the human body more correctly than their predecessors.” (Choulant) All the engravings were realised by the Italian Giovanni Giorgi, an artist who mainly worked for booksellers and closely studied the contemporary illustrations in Vesalius’s famous ‘Fabrica’.

‘Syntagma’ was extremely successful: it was translated into German (1652) Dutch (1661) and English (1653), and its influence even reached Japan, inspiring the anatomist Touyou Yamawaki (1705-1762) to write his ‘Records of Dissection’ (‘Zoshi’, 1759).

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