Der swangern Frawen und hebammen roszgarten.

[Cologne: Arnt von Aich, 1513].

An exceptionally fine copy, in an untouched contemporary binding, of one of three editions of this landmark work published at about the same time, this probably being the third (see below). This is the earliest printed textbook for midwives and one of the first printed books devoted to obstetrics, including engravings attributed to the Frankfurt artist Martin Kaldenbach, a pupil of Albrecht Dürer. Although copies of these editions occasionally appear on the market, they are almost always in poor condition, and usually rebound, as a result of extensive use over the centuries. “The most important items in my collection of rare obstetrical books are the 1513 editions of the famous obstetrical textbook, Der Swangern Frauwen und Hebammen Roszgarten by Eucharius Roesslin, a physician from Worms. All three were published in the same year but each was set up and printed differently (Nos. 1, 2, 3). One is dated; the other two are not. There is, of course, no way of knowing which of these three was the real first edition” (Hellman). All three editions are extremely rare. “Roesslin’s obstetrical treatise, first published in German in 1513 under the title Der swangern Frawen und hebammen roszgarten, had an enormous impact on contemporary obstetrical practice and remained influential for two hundred years, going through over one hundred editions before the close of the eighteenth century. The work contained little original material, being primarily a survey of Greek and Roman obstetrical literature, but it was the first to deal with obstetrics as a separate subject, and the first to print illustrations of the birth chair and the fetus in utero. It was also the first obstetrical work written especially for midwives, which was the reason for its originally appearing in the vernacular” (Norman). ABPC/RBH record no other copy sold at auction in the last 35 years, and when this copy was sold in 1985 Sotheby’s noted that “All these early editions of 1513 are extremely rare; none is recorded as having been sold by auction in England or Germany with the exception of the Hellman-Gunn set sold in London at Bonham's in 1979, which included a rather poor copy of the present issue. It appears that there is only one copy of this issue in America, at the National Library of Medicine, lacking the last signature.” OCLC lists copies of the two undated issues (see below) in US at Duke, KSU, Minnesota, Nebraska and Yale, but does not distinguish between them.

Provenance: London bookseller and bibliophile Irving Davis (sold Sotheby’s, 2-3 April 1985, £18,700); from the library of Jean Blondelet.

“What is the importance of this rare work, usually referred to as "Rosengarten"? The opinion held until recent times that this was the first printed work dealing exclusively with obstetrical knowledge is erroneous. In 1476 the Secreta Mulierum of Albertus Magnus made its appearance in print, and about 1495 the Buechlein der Schwangeren Frauen, the so-called “Frauenbuechlein” by Ortolff von Bayerland, also appeared. Both of these can be called obstetrical monographs. The significance of the “Rosengarten” is not due to its being the first printed obstetrical work, but rather to the fact that its text and illustrations resumed a tradition, broken for almost fifteen hundred years. Roesslin’s famous pictures of the position of the child closely resemble the sixteen in the manuscripts of antiquity, i.e., Mustio’s catechism of women’s diseases and midwifery, largely based on Soranus of Ephesus (see Sarton I, 98, 138).

“Not only does Roesslin’s booklet point back to the distant past, but it also had an enormous influence on the obstetrical practices of the midwives and surgeons of his own time. Latin, the universal language of scholars at that period, was not comprehensible to Roesslin’s public. His book in the vulgar tongue or vernacular, the language of the common people, was therefore popular. The great number of reprints of the German edition testifies to this fact, and to the need for such a text for those not conversant with Latin …

“Roesslin established the necessity for thorough instruction of midwives. In his versified preface he censured the wretched condition of the current obstetrics, and the ignorance, carelessness, and superstition of the midwives, who brought about unnecessary deaths of numberless new-born. The infant mortality, Roesslin bluntly labelled murder, for which the guilty ones deserved to be buried alive, or “broken on the wheel,” instead of being allowed to receive an honorarium for services rendered. In his book, which he wrote at the order of the Duchess Katherine of Brunswick and Luneburg and which he dedicated to her, he attempted to eliminate, or at least mitigate, these evils.

“Eucharius Roesslin, the date of whose birth is uncertain, lived in Freiburg, in Breisgau, in the last decade of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. In 1506 he left there and went to Frankfurt on the Main. He remained at Frankfurt until 1511 with only a slight intermission in 1508 when he was at the court of the Duchess Katherine. In 1513 he became town physician in Worms. He returned to Frankfurt in the same capacity in 1517. There he continued active at his post until his death in 1526 …

“In the “Rosengarten” Roesslin spoke not only from his own obstetrical experience, but quoted passages from the best known medical authors of antiquity and the middle ages, such as Hippocrates, Galen, Rhazes, Avicenna, and Albertus Magnus. Distinguishing his work from the works of his predecessors are the gynecological and obstetrical descriptions which he added, and, above all, the seventeen little pictures of the different positions of the foetus in utero. These are included in all the editions of the “Rosengarten” and its variously titled later editions, and in the several translations.

“The representation of twins is new; the remaining sixteen constitute the same number as in the several illustrated manuscripts. As we know today, Mustio’s illustrations can be traced back to Soranus of Ephesus, the great gynecologist and obstetrician who lived in Rome at the time of Trajan and Hadrian. Either Soranus was translated by Mustio, or Mustio’s work was based on the work of the former. Soranus described the various faulty positions of the child in detail, deeming them important because of their significance in labor and delivery.

“In Roesslin’s presentation of the foetus in utero we see the same bottle or balloon, resembling a more modern cupping-glass, to which Soranus and Mustio had previously compared the womb (see both the famous Mustio manuscripts, that of the twelfth century in Copenhagen and that of the thirteenth in the Vatican). Since this codex, which is now to be found in the Vatican, was in the library of the Castle at Heidelberg until the year 1623, it is probable that Roesslin saw it there while on a visit from nearby Frankfort or Worms, and that he copied its pictures in order to use them as illustrations for his “Rosengarten.”

“From the practical obstetrical standpoint, the significance of the “Rosengarten” lies also in the fact that Roesslin again brought to the fore the knowledge of podalic version which had been almost forgotten since the time of Soranus and Mustio. He thus limited cephalic version, which has more theoretical merit but is less practical in execution.

“The normal position of the foetus, according to Roesslin, is the head (cephalic) presentation with the hands on the upper thighs, a view which Soranus had already presented. As the next most favorable position, Roesslin designates the complete footling presentation, provided that the arms lie against the body and the hands touch the upper thighs. The same footling presentation, but with the arms directed upwards, “So das Kind erscheinet mit beiden Fuessen und hat die Hend nit neben ihm unter sich gestrecket, sondern iiber sich,” is represented as the most dangerous. Strangely enough Roesslin does not consider the transverse position in any way hazardous.

“The three membranes surrounding the foetus he calls the “Bueschlein,” or “Nachgeburt,” “Biles” and “Armatura Conceptis.” He describes the signs of labor as pains in the back, pains in the abdomen, pains in the genitals, and heat in the uterus. In dealing with the period of pregnancy, he recommends a laxative diet for healthy women and a strengthening diet for weak ones. He mentions the great survival power of the seven months’ child, ascribing to it a greater vitality than that possessed by the child carried in utero for eight months. Today this is, of course, considered erroneous. He also attributes difficult delivery to the smallness of the uterus, to stenosis of the cervix as a consequence of pathological changes in it, abdominal tumors, hemorrhoids, asthenia of abdominal pressure, depressed morale (the psychosomatic designation of that day), abnormal largeness or smallness of the child, pregnancy with twins, too early ending of the pregnancy, too light or too heavy membranes, rupture of the membranes, and death of the baby.

“Roesslin recommends a half-sitting position for the woman in labor, preferably on a special birth-stool, whose representation can be found in most editions of the “Rosengarten” and its translations, and which Soranus had already described fourteen hundred years earlier …

“Soranus gave exact instructions for the type of aid to be rendered by the midwife and her assistant during labor. These regulations were repeated by Roesslin. The midwife in clean clothes sits opposite the laboring woman, but a little lower - because the arrival of the foetus (“frucht”) proceeds from above downward. Roesslin recommends one or two helpers instead of the three helpers recommended by Soranus. They are pictorially presented in the woodcuts of the “Rosengarten” (Hellman).

“Midwives [in the 15th and 16th century] were likely to be married women with children of their own - their personal experience of childbirth was regarded as the most essential midwifery qualification. With no medical education, a midwife’s last resort during a difficult labour was in prayer with charms and incantations. Recognition of the status of midwives by the Church was only in connection of midwives baptising dying babies in an emergency, and the mother was always advised to make her confession before the onset of labour, in case she died in childbirth. If the baby was not baptised, it would be ‘shut out of heaven’ and could not be buried in consecrated ground.


“Labour was a female family ritual excluding all men, with the mother-in-law usually organising events. Rest was considered the cornerstone of all treatment in the middle and upper classes, but female labourers continued with their tasks in fields and barns. Labour was a painful, hard business, made worse by the belief that pain was God’s punishment for Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden and a necessary part of childbirth. Consequently pain-relief was often disapproved of, and comprised herbal and floral treatments, such as opium seeds, chamomile ointment, mugwort tea, raspberry tea and mandrake. It has been estimated that 3% of women died in childbirth during the 15th century, compared to 7 in 100,000 now in the UK, and disease and poor-diet contributed to this number.


“During the postnatal period, a woman had to remain in the home until she had been ‘churched’. Churching of women (a religious blessing) after childbirth took place when she was considered to be past ‘the unclean’ period brought on by labour: this was a happy occasion, often accompanied by a celebration of the woman’s return to society. She was also allowed to resume sexual activity at this time. Breastfeeding was the preferred diet for the child’s first two years, and had the advantage of providing immunological resistance in the baby against infection, and also in suppressing ovulation and so naturally reducing the birth rate” (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, “From RCOG Heritage: A 500 year old Rose in our Garden”).


The first edition of this work was published at Strasburg in 1513 by Martin Flach (Hellman 1). Two other editions, although undated, had previously been assigned the date 1513 (e.g., by Hellman). However, Josef Benzing (‘Zu den ersten Ausgaben des ‘Rosengartens’ von Eucharius Rösslin,’ Das Antiquariat, Wien, 12, Nr. 5/6, 57-58), has assigned dates 1515 and 1518 to these editions, the two being distinguished by the presence of a full-page woodcut and the word ‘herbammen’ on the title of the latter (Hellman 2), while the former has ‘herbamme’ and no woodcut (Hellman 3). On this basis, our copy is of the 1518 printing. Benzing also shows that the 1515 edition was printed by Heinrich Gran at Hagenau, and the 1518 by Arnt von Aich at Cologne (previously it had been thought that Gran had issued both undated editions). An English translation by Richard Jonas was published in 1540, printed by Thomas Raynalde, and entitled The Byrth of Mankynde; this was the first book on the subject to be printed in English. It was also translated into Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Czech.


Garrison-Morton 6138; not in Adams; not in Norman; Waller 8091. Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1945) pp. 73-75; Green, The Sources of Eucharius Roesslin’s ‘Rosegarden for Pregnant Women and Midwives’ (1513), Medical History 53 (2009), 167-92; Hellman, A collection of early obstetrical books… including 25 editions of Roesslin’s Rosengarten, (New Haven, Privately printed, 1952), no. 2; Klein, Eucharius Rösslin's 'Rosengarten' gedruckt im Jahre 1513. Facsimile mit Begleit-Text von G. Klein (Munich 1910); Stillwell, Awakening Interest in Science during the first century of printing, 507. For a bibliographical study of the work, see Sir D’Arcy Power’s article in The Library, 1927, 4 ser. 8, 1-37, subsequently reprinted in book form.

4to, 56 leaves, the last blank, full-page woodcut of two women in a rose garden, one holding a baby in swaddling clothes, within a woodcut border of renaissance design in four blocks, full-page woodcut of the author presenting his book to Katherine, Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg (the dedicatee), woodcut of the birth chair on D2v. and 19 woodcuts (including two duplicates) showing the different positions of the foetus in utero. Contemporary blind-stamped calf-backed wooden boards, one of two clasps torn, a very small round wormhole through second half of the book, mostly marginal, but just affecting a letter or two, a fine copy.

Item #4006

Price: $58,500.00

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