OPTHALMODOULEIA [Greek], das ist, Augendienst: Newer und wolgegründter Bericht von Ursachen und Erkentnüs aller Gebrechen, Schäden und Mängel der Augen und des Gesichtes, wie man solchen anfenglich mit gebürlichen mitteln begegenen, vorkommen und wehren, auch wie man alle solche gebresten künstlich durch Artzney, Instrument vnd Handgrieffe curiren, wircken und vertreiben sol ...

Dresden: Matthes Stöckel, 1583.

First edition, rare, of the most important Renaissance work on ophthalmology and one of the earliest surgical works printed in the vernacular; it is also one of the most remarkable illustrated books in early medical literature. The Greek wordOphthalmoduleia means ‘the service of the eyes’, literally ‘eye-service’, although it can also be translated as ‘when the eye is upon you’, as in Ephesians 6:6 when it is usually read in the sense of ‘under observation’. “In this treaty on ophthalmic surgery Bartisch, who limited his practice to ophthalmology and hernia repair, left the first extensively illustrated account of any surgical specialty” (Garrison-Morton). “The book’s text, in twelve parts, and its woodcut illustrations, combine to give a comprehensive view of Renaissance eye surgery. The woodcuts constitute one of the most remarkable features of the publication: they total ninety-one, including some repetitions, and they are believed to have been executed by Hans Hewamaul after Bartisch’s own drawings. Two of the illustrations are presented with overlays showing anatomical parts lying successively one under the other; Bartisch was the first to illustrate the brain and the eye in this manner. The book was printed at Bartisch’s own expense and was widely used for the next century” (Grolier-Horblit). These striking illustrations depict clinical appearances, surgical instruments and procedures, appliances for the preparation of medications, and also amulets. They are crowded with detail, and form a comprehensive picture book of practical methods of treatment. Bartisch gained a reputation for his skilful operations on the cataract using a clean needle to depress the lens through the sclerotic. He became the court oculist to Duke August I of Saxony, to whom this work is dedicated. Bartisch employed numerous pioneering techniques in the treatment of the eyes, including both surgical and non-surgical methods. He was the first eye-doctor to recommend removal of the eye in cases of cancer. The 91 striking woodcut illustrations, made after Bartisch’s own drawings from life, provide a comprehensive pictorial record of Renaissance eye surgery. The innovative and effective use of movable flaps to show sectional views of the brain and the eye appears here for the first time. ABPC/RBH lists the sale of three copies since Norman.

“The title-page sets out the scope of the book and ends with an indication of its potential use ‘to all needful physicians, true-hearted fathers of families and especially to those who are laden and afflicted with infirmities, diseases of the eyes and of the sight, or who have to guard against such things.’

“The book opens with a twenty-page exceedingly verbose preface addressed to the Elector of Saxony. Its main interest lies in the scanty autobiographical information it contains. It would seem that Bartisch was born in 1535 at Köningsbrook near Dresden. Poverty compelled him to cut short his schooling and devote himself to surgery. He became apprenticed to a barber-surgeon at the age of thirteen and had had thirty-six years of experience when writing the preface. This experience he gained as an itinerant practitioner, visiting different places and markets. The succeeding thirty pages are taken up with testimonials on the cures he carried out, certified by various civic and other authorities; thus, Simon Henet, who was 104 years old and had been stock-blind [completely blind] in both eyes for five years, was helped by Bartisch and could see well after treatment. Occasionally he healed other affections too: Anna, the wife of Jacob Urban, aged fifty-two, had been deaf for six years, but regained her hearing after using the ointment she bought from Bartisch. Most of the cures were, however, on people who had been stock-blind. A page of prayers concludes this section.

“There follows the text. It is divided into sixteen parts, each with a number of chapters, some of which are but a few paragraphs. The opening part deals with the constellation of the stars and their bearing on the management of eye disease, and the rest of the text covers fairly fully the prevailing knowledge and practice of ophthalmology … There is condemnation of spectacles for poor sight (for which various medications are prescribed), stress is laid on the unfavourable prognosis in gutta serena, rather full accounts are given of operations for couching cataract, for removal of sterygia-like excrescences, and for correcting distortion of the lids. The two outstanding features are the description of an operation for exenteration of the orbit, using a spoon-shaped knife which Bartisch designed for the purpose; and the accounts he gives in the XIIIth part of the book of sorcery, magic and similar practices in the causation of eye disease, and of amulets and charms in their treatment. Amulets he found efficacious in many infections, including cataract” (Sorsby).

Ophthalmoduleia is an important work for several reasons. At a time when most scholarly works were still written in Latin, and the lingua franca of scholars all over Europe, rather than the vernacular, it was written and published in the author’s native German … It was the first systematic work in ocular disease being logically arranged, beginning with the anatomy of the head and eye and progressing to more specific treatments for strabismus, cataracts (distinguishing between the six different types), trachoma, external growths on the lids, injuries and foreign bodies … The illustrations cover eye defects, surgical instruments and methods of curing diseases and injuries of the eye. They are very detailed and in several cases use an overlay technique which enables the reader to ‘dissect’ parts of the head or eye by lifting up successive flaps. The book was intended for the information of both laymen and surgeons and as Daniel M. Albert has suggested, its very completeness documents Bartisch’s right to be styled ‘the founder of modern ophthalmology’ … He developed a substantial following and a reputation for his skill in removing cataracts and surgically treating styes, lachrymal fistulas, ectropion and many other disorders and diseases of the eye. Ironically, he disapproved of spectacles, failing to see how an eye which was already performing efficiently could be improved by putting something in front of it and promoting recipes that would help consumers stave off their use … Bartisch was an inventor as well as a surgeon and designed many of his own surgical instruments” (https://www.college-optometrists.org/the-college/museum/museum-collections/historical-books-collection/bartisch-s-ophthalmodouleia.html).

The work includes a full-page self-portrait of the author aged 48, printed on the last page of the preliminaries. “In his self-portrait, Bartisch stands behind a parapet that supports a closed book, common tropes in Renaissance author-portraits … Bartisch holds an operating instrument in each hand and, with a furrowed brow, gazes toward the reader: he is a surgeon, a scholar, and a keen observer. Grasping his instruments as if ready to cut, Bartisch reminds viewers that he conducts operations himself: the image underlines his concern with seeing and handling patients directly. Just as Bartisch does not employ a draftsman to design his figures, neither does he rely on a surgeon to operate on his patients; he is a surgeon himself. By highlighting his participation in the kinds of operations described in his book, he implies that his text and images draw from his own experiences and interactions with individual patients. In this manner, the portrait helps to persuade readers of the author’s artistic and medical expertise …

“Bartisch’s depictions of ocular afflictions and abnormalities typically consist of full-page, closely cropped, three-quarter profiles, with no backgrounds; they are surrounded by simple black frames. His representational strategy allows observers to focus on his figures’ eyes, so as to discern with ease the features that Bartisch wishes to teach them to see …

“A three-quarter view of one woman’s face in the Ophthalmodouleia exposes her enlarged right eyeball, which extends out of the orbit beyond her cheek (f. 218r). Bartisch is unsparing in his comments on the anonymous woman’s appearance, describing the eye as ‘very large, repulsive, and abominable to look at and cannot be fully covered or hidden.’ The enlarged eyeball is the particular element within this face that Bartisch wants observers to recognize as a mimetic likeness. Although the right half of the woman’s face is mostly shadowed, the eyeball projects outward enough to catch light on its left side. Such details as the consistent light source, the embroidered headdress, and the elaborate ruff, lend some particularity to the figure, although not enough to establish clear mimetic connections to a specific sitter. In representing her sartorial embellishments, Bartisch demonstrates his ability as a draftsman and marks the social status of his patient.

“In another three-quarter portrait, Bartisch presents a bearded man with thick, curly hair, a wrinkled brow and sunken cheeks, who suffers from fruit-like protrusions emerging from each eye (f. 232v). Bartisch ascribes these afflictions to sorcery. Invoking the concept of autopsia (eye-witnessing), he writes:

‘I have also seen with my own eyes and certainly have learned about some people whose eyes and vision were damaged and ruined by witchcraft so much so that clasps, bent pins, lace pins, and similar things suppurate out of the eyes. From time to time pieces of flesh have grown out of it, and no different in appearance from normal pears or apples.’

“Representations of a clasp, a bent pin, and lace pins appear in the right corner of the print to show the observer these other objects that might be made by witchcraft to grow from an invalid’s eyes …

“Other elements in Bartisch’s woodcuts – such as his visualizations of tools, his depictions of treatments, and his representations of glasses, jars, and containers – have many precedents in vernacular surgical and medical tracts from the sixteenth century … Bartisch remarks on the efficiency and precision of images for conveying the form of instruments, in a way that cannot be achieved with text:

‘It is not possible for the physician to indicate or explain his instruments so exactly, certainly, and suitably as when one sees them made, drawn, or painted before one’s eyes.’

“Furthermore, the ornamentation on the handles of Bartisch’s tools enables him to demonstrate his skill as a draftsman and to signify his social status as the owner of these instruments (see f. 219v)” (Berger).

Following the publication of this work, in 1588 Bartisch became court oculist to Duke Augustus I of Saxony, and he continued working in the Dresden area until his death in about 1606.

In addition to the first edition published in Dresden in 1583, two further editions of the Ophthalmodouleia appeared in 1584 and 1686. The existence of three editions testifies to the enduring acclaim of the work, which the publisher of the third edition, Georg Scheurer, characterized as “a lauded and popular book”.

BM/STC German p. 68; Choulant-Frank p. 234; Garrison-Morton 5817; Grolier Medicine 22; Heirs of Hippocrates 369; NLM/Durling 479; Waller 756; Wellcome 697; Norman 125. Berger, ‘Georg Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia and his theory of painting and drawing,’ Early Science and Medicine 26 (2021), pp. 1-54. Sorsby, ‘Bartisch’s contributions to Ophthalmology,’ Medical History 12 (1968), pp. 205-207.



Folio (297 x 187 mm), ff. [xxviii], 274, [8], Gothic type, foliated, title printed in red and black within woodcut border (repeated in the preliminaries on Cir); large woodcut arms of Duke August of Saxony on A2r, fine full-page woodcut portrait of the author on E4v; numerous large woodcuts in the text (including a few repeats), woodcuts on ASr and B2v with overlays (five and six flaps, respectively), printer’s woodcut device at end. Contemporary vellum, manuscript lettering to spine, front board blind tooled 'NICODEMUS EULER 1587', 6 cm split to front hinge. A very fine copy with no restoration.

Item #5416

Price: $115,000.00

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