Paris: François Ambroise Didot l’aîné, 1786.
First edition, in an elegant contemporary binding, of the “most accurate neuroanatomical work produced before the advent of microscopic staining techniques. This work is very rare when complete with all the plates, and the present copy is perhaps unique in containing the four-page ‘Prospectus’ for the work which we have been unable to find in any other copy of the book. Vicq d’Azyr identifies accurately for the first time many of the cerebral convolutions, along with various internal structures of the brain” (GM). “Vicq d’Azyr, permanent secretary to the Paris Academy of Medicine and personal physician of Marie Antoinette, produced one of the most outstanding anatomical folios of the brain that had yet appeared. He found that his dissections of the brain were facilitated by first hardening the brain in alcohol. He identified accurately for the first time many of the cerebral convolutions, along with various internal structures of the brain. Vicq d’Azyr (1781) described the mammillothalmic tract which still bears his name, as well as the central sulcus with the pre- and post-central convolutions and insula twenty years before Reil and Rolando” (McHenry, Garrison’s History of Neurology, pp. 104-5). “Vicq d'Azyr, the eminent French anatomist and neurologist, has been called the greatest comparative anatomist of the eighteenth century. A highly successful physician, he numbered Marie Antoinette among his patients. Vicq d'Azyr's descriptions of the gross morphology of the brain were among the most accurate of his day and he identified many of the cerebral convolutions as well as various internal structures of the brain for the first time. Although Vicq d'Azyr intended his Traité d’anatomie et de physiologie (Paris, 1786-9) to be a multi-volume set, only one volume was published. It contained all of his important neuroanatomical studies and was one of the finest works on the subject to appear before the advent of microscopy. The atlas’ sixty-nine plates included thirty-four hand-colored aquatints with individual outline plates drawn and engraved by Alexandre Briceau (fl. 1765), the noted Paris engraver, from gross dissections of human brains which had been fixed in alcohol, such fixatives as formalin and other chemicals not yet being used. The atlas also included a black-and-white plate taken from Soemmerring’s De basi encephali” (Heirs of Hippocrates). The work was published in a series of eight fascicles which the author advertised for sale individually. “The unusual luxurious quality of this work and the un-business-like way in which Vicq d’Azyr permitted purchasers to acquire separate parts of the work strongly suggest that he financed its publication” (Norman). Complete copies are rare on the market – only five others have appeared at auction in the past fifty years, only one of them in a contemporary binding (and that copy had significant internal problems). The Haskell F. Norman copy, in a modern binding, made $23000 (his sale part II, Christie's New York, 16 June 1998, lot 840).
Provenance: From the library of Jean Blondelet, perhaps the greatest collector of medical books of the 20th century.
In 1765 Vicq d’Azyr (1746-94) enrolled in the University of Paris where he was taught by the anatomist and surgeon Antoine Petit (1722-94) and the comparative anatomist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-99). In 1772 Vicq d’Azyr defended his thesis on the protective effect of the cranium for the brain, in 1773 he taught a popular course on morphology at the Jardin du Roi and in the following year he earned his doctorate and was admitted to the Académie des Sciences. In 1776 Vicq d’Azyr continued his study of anatomy in Paris, following the recommendation of Petit. In 1780 he became professor of comparative anatomy at Alfort Veterinary School, a post he would hold for the next eight years.
“During his eight years at Alfort, he wrote with the aim of presenting a “grand tableau” or scheme of all species to illustrate a grand design of the animal kingdom, culminating in man. However, he was only able to write one volume of this work prior to his death. The five-part volume [the offered work], dedicated to King Louis XVI, described the detailed anatomy of the brain, and represents some of the most accurate depictions of the brain in the eighteenth century. In the introduction of this work, Vicq d’Azyr emphasized the importance of integrating form and function. The beautifully illustrated plates used in his tome were drawn by the noted Parisian engraver Alexandre Briceau, who is thanked by the author for his skills, stamina, and “endurance of foul odors.” All plates were drawn from actual preserved human brains. One plate was black and white taken from Soemmering’s De basi encephali. Preceding each plate, Vicq d’Azyr provided detailed explanations that were followed by comments of earlier anatomists (e.g., Bidloo, Vieussens, Eustachius, Willis, Monro, von Haller). In his descriptions, Vicq d’Azyr often chided past anatomists, including Vesalius, for inaccuracies in their illustrations and descriptions.
“For his studies of the brain, he was one of the first to use a chemical cocktail (alcohol, saltpeter, and hydrochloric acid) for brain preservation, which would not become a standard method until the work of Reil (1759-1813), and horizontal and coronal sections of the brain for studying its anatomy. Vicq d’Azyr was the first to describe the substantia nigra, although some have erroneously attributed this discovery to Samuel Thomas Soemmerring (1755-1830). In 1786 he described the mamillothalamic tract (bundle of Vicq d’Azyr) as “the white ribbon that rises from the mammillary eminence, forming a curve toward the interior tubercle within the optic thalamus.” He is credited with rediscovering the white line (line of Gennari) in the calcarine cortex and was the first to accurately show the convolutions of the cerebral hemispheres which, historically, had been considered little more than “sur un plat de macaronis” (macaroni on a dish). He divided the cerebral cortex into frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes. He described the deep gray nuclei including the basal ganglia, claustrum, and caudate nucleus and the foramen (cecum) of Vicq d’Azyr, which lies in the midline of the anterior pontomedullary junction and receives basilar artery perforators. He also described the locus coeruleus and the centrum semiovale (Vicq d’Azyr’s centrum), although the centrum was first portrayed by Vieussens. He gave the first detailed description of the course of the fornix and stria medullaris and of the anatomy of the hippocampus. He named and identified the uncus, cuneus, and precuneus, and was the first to describe the insula, although eponymously this structure carries the name of Reil. With air injection studies, he demonstrated the existence of the intraventricular foramen and noticed that the superior sagittal sinus drained primarily into the right transverse sinus. Vicq d’Azyr elaborated on the arrangement of the fiber bundles of the spinal cord and their division into a posterior and two lateral columns with an anterior commissure.
“Interestingly, it was Vicq d’Azyr and not the Italian anatomist Rolando who discovered the central sulcus and pre- and postcentral gyri. In fact, François Leuret (1796-1851) first applied the name Rolando to the central sulcus in 1839 (Anatomie comparée du Système nerveux) to direct attention towards Rolando’s descriptions. When Leuret prepared his publication on the brain, he did not have access to the writings of Vicq d’Azyr. Vicq d’Azyr first mentioned the central sulcus in [the present work]” (Tubbs et al, Félix Vicq d’Azyr (1746–1794): early founder of neuroanatomy and royal French physician, 2011).
The year 1788 saw Vicq d’Azyr’s election into the Académie Française, the highest scientific honour in France, and in the following year he became royal physician to Queen Marie Antoinette. In 1790, following the advent of the French Revolution, he presented plans for the reform of medical teaching in France to the Constituent Assembly, proposing grouping together the schools of medicine, surgery, veterinary and pharmacy and calling for the active participation of medical students in clinical work and competitive examinations. These proposals resulted in the establishment in Paris of three Écoles de Santé. Vicq d’Azyr died, probably from tuberculosis, on June 20, 1994, during the Reign of Terror.
Anatomie de la Couleur 123; Blake 474; Brunet V, 1176; Garrison-Morton 401.2; Heirs of Hippocrates 1073 (fragment of atlas only); Norman 2150; Waller 9953.
Large folio (477 x 312 mm). Contemporary calf, gilt spine, green title lable to spine, very light wear to spine, otherwise very fine and entirely unrestored. Half-title, allegorical aquatint frontispiece, printed in color and finished by hand, showing Louis XVI as Apollo sitting on a cloud watching an anatomy scene with three goddesses around the corpse, one representing Study with an oil-lamp, one Medicine with a serpent, and the third the draughts-woman, engraved explanation leaf by Beaublé, typographic dedication leaf to Louis XVI, ‘Discours sur l'anatomie en générale’ (pp. -54), ‘Vocabulaire anatomique, augmenté d'un grand nombre de termes nouveaux’ (pp. -123), ‘Prospectus’ (pp. ), ‘Explication des planches’ (pp. -111, with 5 divisional titles of which numbers 1, 2 and 5 not included in the pagination). 69 plates, numbered 1-35, consisting of 34 number-keyed line engravings and 34 aquatints, some with stipple engraving, printed in two or more colors, and representing the same figures as the line engravings but printed from different plates, plus a single line-engraved plate (18). The plates were drawn and engraved by Alexandre Briceau “dessinateur du Cabinet d’Anatomie” assisted by his daughter Angélique.