De Humani Corporis Fabrica librorum Epitome.

Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543.

First edition, extremely rare, of the Epitome, an illustrated summary of Dehumani corporis fabrica. “The Epitome is without doubt one of the great contributions to the medical sciences, but it is a great deal more, being an exquisite piece of creative art with a perfect blend of format, typography and illustration” (Maley). “The work of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) of Brussels constitutes one of the greatest treasures of Western civilization and culture … [The] author has come to be ranked with Hippocrates, Galen, Harvey and Lister among the great physicians and discoverers in the history of medicine” (Saunders and O’Malley, p. 9). “De humani corporis fabrica may be the only masterwork in the history of medicine and science that was published simultaneously with a synopsis prepared by the author. Vesalius designed his Epitome to serve as a more affordable outline key to the encyclopedic and expensive Fabrica. In its dedication Vesalius stated: ‘I have made [the Epitome] to be as it were a footpath beside the larger book, and as an index of what is set forth in it.’ However, unlike the Fabrica, which begins with the skeletal system and works outward, the Epitome’s approach to anatomy is topographical: that is, the muscles are first discussed, followed by a combined study of the vessels, nervous system, and viscera. The various parts of the anatomy are illustrated in nine woodcuts, divided into two skeletal, four muscular, and two circulatory charts, plus a neurological chart. The skeletal, muscular, and one of the circulatory plates are similar, but not identical, to plates found in the Fabrica: the Epitome’s plates are some sixty millimeters taller, the figures are in slightly different attitudes, and less space is devoted to background scenery (sheet K duplicates the Fabrica’s thinking skeleton, but the inscription on the pedestal has been changed). The remaining circulatory plate and the neurological plate are reproduced, with different texts, on the two folding plates found in the Fabrica … In addition to these nine anatomical plates, the Epitome includes two woodcuts of a nude male and female figure, accompanied by long descriptions of the surface regions of the body; nothing like them appears in the Fabrica. The Epitome’s title-page woodcut and portrait of Vesalius are from the same blocks used in the Fabrica. Published in larger format than the Fabrica, in the form of separate sheets to be used for wall charts, and not necessarily bound, the Epitome is considerably rarer than the Fabrica today. Many copies of the Epitome are incomplete, and the last two, unsigned sheets ([N] and [O]), printed with individual parts of the body to be cut out and used as overlays for other figures, are especially rare” (Grolier Medicine). Both of these sheets are present in our copy. “Written in language which does not merely repeat that of the Fabrica, the Epitome is a book in its own right, independent in treatment, point of view, and purpose. The book embodies the principles of his educational method in a more striking fashion than does the Fabrica … Seldom has so large an amount of scientific knowledge been so skillfully compressed into the narrow limits of a few pages” (Lind, pp. xxiv-xxv). Because of the Epitome’s clearer, succinct, and more populist approach to the material, it has been argued that “it was not actually the Fabrica itself but the Epitome . . . which had the bigger influence on generations of future anatomists, physicians, and surgeons” (MacLean). Joffe and Buchanan's 2015 world census locates 95 copies of the Epitome, of which only 4 are in private hands (this copy unknown to the census). They estimate that “over the last 470 years since it was published, nearly half of the 1543 edition of the Epitome have survived.”

Provenance: Pierre II Mariette (1634-1716) (ink signature on title ‘P.[ierre] Mariette 1684’), for whom the book was probably bound. He was a “print dealer and publisher, the greatest [print] publisher of the century; son of Pierre Mariette I; married Madeleine, the widow of François Langlois, in 1655 and managed the Langlois business at the ‘Colonnes d’Hercules’. In 1657 settled at his father’s address (Rue St Jacques à l’Espérance) of which he owned a quarter, before buying all the remaining shares in 1663. In 1658, bought the ‘Colonnes d’Hercules’, and for a while rented it to a hat-maker then to a bookseller before passing it to his son Jean in 1691 (; ink signature on front flyleaf [H. Ashledos (?)]; eighteenth century American private collection.

“Vesalius’s Fabrica and Epitome are arguably the most important and influential books in the history of anatomy and possibly in medicine as well. Vesalius reformed the study of human anatomy and decisively broke away from centuries of Galenic tradition, by applying the powers of direct observation and the use of detailed illustration of human anatomy to provide an entirely new standard for the presentation of scientific information. This novel approach would gradually be applied to works of physiology, pathology, and all of the medical sciences. The influence of the book was far reaching — lasting centuries and influencing all anatomical illustration to come. Although not without his own errors, Vesalius denounced the doctrines of incorrect Galenic anatomy and emphasized the importance of human dissection and direct observation for the description of human anatomy.

“The book achieved its universal recognition for two reasons. It is the first complete modern medical textbook describing the whole of human anatomy based on its author's own dissection. Vesalius introduced completely new and unique pedagogical techniques. Secondly, in the art of printing and production of scientific works, the marriage of artistically superb illustrations and layout with the descriptive text is unsurpassed.

The Fabrica is a large folio and was intended to serve as a reference work for established physicians, surgeons, and scientists and the intellectual elite. It was not a practical or affordable tome for the student of anatomy. Further, it had much greater and profound importance, which transcended medicine and anatomy. In many ways it represented a true product of the spirit of the Renaissance. It was a marvel of art, science, medicine, typography, illustration, pedagogy, and book production and printing.

“Although profusely illustrated, the Fabrica is not an anatomical atlas. Both Vesalius and Oporinus recognized the demand and need for a practical student atlas and therefore undertook the production of the Epitome. Vesalius wanted the Epitome to act as a ‘foot-path beside the highway of the larger work,’ an atlas that could be used on a daily basis by students doing human dissections. The teachings and techniques of Vesalius were disseminated throughout Europe and the world, not through the Fabrica but rather the Epitome. It was larger in format with a total of 14 leaves comprising illustrations and text and likely intended to act as a wall chart for students of anatomy. Oporinus, with the permission of Vesalius, completed a German translation of the Epitome only two months after the Latin Epitome, on 9 August 1543, edited by Albanus Torinus, then the Rector of the University of Basle. This made the work available in a modern language, which would increase its availability to potential readers. There was an immediate widespread demand for the Epitome. It was immensely popular, sold well, and was republished and translated, in unauthorized fashion, into Dutch (1569) and French (1560), and another German version in 1551. Thomas Geminus was responsible for the publication of the Epitome in England, with copperplate reproductions of the illustrations, in both Latin (1545), and English (1553 and 1559) versions. The text of the English editions was in fact derived from Thomas Vicary’s work, Anatomie of the Bodie of Manis (no known copy of the 1548 first edition exists and we reference the next known edition of 1577), not the Epitome, but the illustrations were engravings based on the woodcuts of Vesalius. What was unmistakably Vesalian in all of these versions were the illustrations. The Fabrica and the Epitome represent the full culmination of the new instructional methods entirely devised and practiced by Vesalius.

“It is likely that Vesalius first conceived the idea of his great masterpieces, the Fabrica and Epitome, in 1538 or 1539 as a complete and fully detailed study of human anatomy. He hints at it in the Tabulae Sex (1538) and again in the Venesection Epistle of 1539 where he identified Calcar [i.e., Jan Steven van Calcar (c. 1499-1546), pupil of Titian] as the artist if he were willing to participate. The time of preparation was therefore between 1538 and 1542. The task of producing this work would have been absolutely gargantuan and of epic proportions. It would have involved extensive reading (the works of Galen and others to contrast and compare his own work), writing the actual manuscript text, performing dissections, and illustrating (as he was possibly responsible for a small portion of the illustrations). Most of this work would have been done alongside the illustrator as each figure required explanatory text and additionally was keyed to the text.

“Perhaps the greatest mystery of the Fabrica and Epitome is the identity of the artist or artists. Many theories have been postulated and all remain unsubstantiated. Theories include the artist being Calcar, as we know him definitely to be the artist of the skeletal figures in the Tabulae Sex, and Vesalius would have likely attempted to retain his services for the major work. Epistola docens venam axillarem ... concludes with the statement ‘if bodies become available and Joannes Stephanus (of Calcar), the distinguished contemporary artist, does not refuse his services, I shall certainly undertake that task’ [i.e., preparing the Fabrica]. There are similarities of style between the Tabulae Sex and the Fabrica/Epitome, such as techniques of shading for example, which may provide evidence of Calcar's involvement in the later work. The real problem is the rather elementary or crude style of the Tabulae and the very sophisticated renderings in the Fabrica, just a few years later. Some have suggested Titian to be the artist; however, there is no proof of this. The most likely possibility is that several artists were involved, themselves being from or familiar with the school of Titian, and Vesalius himself perhaps making occasional contributions.

“Finally, regarding the woodcuts, we again are unaware of the master(s) who executed the blocks. However, we do know that they were cut in Venice, and their quality suggests they were done by the finest and most skilled wood engravers of the day. They existed and survived into the twentieth century being unfortunately destroyed in Munich in 1944 by WWII bombs. The manuscript was completed in 1542 and was sent to Oporinus in Basle in its entirety, based on the letter to Oporinus dated the 24 of August in which Vesalius stresses many of the details he required for the proper printing of his book. The journey from Venice to Basle would have taken several weeks, and Oporinus likely received the material, manuscript, and woodblocks by the end of September 1542, at which time the production of the Fabrica and Epitome would have commenced.

“It took the Oporinus firm approximately nine months to complete the publication process as the colophon of the Fabrica is dated June 1543 and likely represents the date of completion. The Epitome also bears the colophon date June 1543; however, we do not know if it was printed before or after the Fabrica” (Pozeg & Flamm, pp. 200-210).

The Latin Epitome consists of 14 pages of text printed on royal paper, with 75 lines each, and 9 large sheets of illustrations that are even larger than those in the Fabrica. Some plates are larger due to captions around the illustrations. In fact, the Fabrica contains two oversized plates—in the latter, at the last moment, two plates were inserted which were originally destined for the Epitome. The pages are larger than the Fabrica format and so had to be folded in half. The first twelve sheets were printed on both sides, but the last two leaves were printed on only one side to be cut out and pasted together for a three-dimensional display of the anatomy. These latter sheets are often lacking as a result.

“In a short note to the reader at the bottom of the frontispiece, Vesalius explains that one may study the Epitome in two ways: beginning either with the text or with the illustrations. If one follows the latter course, one should begin with the two large nudes, a man and a woman, commonly called Adam and Eve. The man holds a skull in his left hand and the woman chastely covers the pubic area with her right hand. These figures are placed in the middle of the Epitome, after the text are several illustrations. The reader, therefore, has to turn the pages back from these plates. On the reverse side of the page showing Adam, one finds a standing skeleton. Turning the leaves further back toward the text, one finds several male anatomical figures, with a further layer of muscle removed in each illustration. Going forward from the illustration of Eve, two sheets appear with prints of the brain and nerves, as well as the extra sheets that need to be cut out, and two additional blank sheets.

“The Epitome was not necessarily intended to be bound so that students or artists could attach the large plates (56 cm high by 41 cm wide) to the walls of their rooms, though one does find printed instructions for assembling the sheets if they are to be bound” (Joffe & Buchanan, p. 2).

“The Fabrica was elaborately, and in the usual laudatory manner, dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and dated 1 August 1542. Shortly thereafter Vesalius was appointed to the court of Charles V, Vesalius dedicated the Epitome to Prince Philip of Spain, son to Charles V, the date being 13 August 1542. It is possible, as O’Malley states, that this intervening 2-week period was the time of composition of the Epitome. It is possible that Vesalius felt that the smaller student-oriented manual was more appropriately dedicated to the son, and the definitive volume to the established and respected elder, in an effort to mirror the appropriate audience for each respective book. O’Malley states that Vesalius presented Charles V a copy of the Fabrica and the Epitome. However, he cites no references for this assertion” (Pozeg & Flamm, p. 211).

Andreas Vesalius was born in Brussels in 1513, or 1514, and came from a family of physicians. He received his education at Louvain, and studied medicine at Montpellier and Paris before returning to Louvain to teach anatomy. After spending some time in France (1533-1536) as an army surgeon to Charles V, Vesalius travelled to Italy to continue his studies, later becoming professor of anatomy at Padua; he also taught in Bologna and Pisa. In 1543, at the age of only twenty-eight, he published his Fabrica and Epitome. After being called to the court of Charles V later in 1543, he was soon after occupying the post of army surgeon again. After returning to Italy, and following trips to Brussels and Basel, he spent some time in Madrid at the court of Philip II as his physician in ordinary. A pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to be Vesalius’ last journey. While on the island of Cyprus he received a call to Padua to occupy the chair of Fallopius. On the way he was shipwrecked, and died on the Isle of Zante on October 15, 1564” (Maley).

Adams V607; Choulant-Frank p. 180; Cockx Indestege, Vesalius, 46 (“leaves L with the female nude and [O] with one set of figures to be cut out, wanting”); Cushing, Vesalius, VI B-1; Durling 4581; Garrison-Morton 376; Heirs of Hippocrates 291 (“It is a very rare work and is incomplete [or completed] in most of the existing copies”); Norman / Grolier, 100 Books Famous in Medicine, 18; Osler 571; Stillwell 711; Waller 9908; not in Norman. Joffe & Buchanan, ‘The Vesalius Epitome of De Humani Corporis Fabrica of 1543: A Worldwide Census with New Findings,’ Medical Research Archives, vol. 2, no. 1, August 2015. Lind (tr.), The Epitome of Andreas Vesalius, 1949. MacLean, ‘Vesalius's 1543 Fabrica: who owned it and how was it used?,’ University of Glasgow Library Blog, July 31, 2015 ( Maley, ‘De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome,’ Glasgow University Library Special Collections Department Book of the Month, 2002 ( Pozeg & Flamm, ‘Vesalius and the 1543 Epitome,’ The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 103, no. 2, 2009, pp. 199-220.

Broadsheet folio (486 x 330 mm), ff. [14], including twenty woodcut illustrations, frontispiece of Vesalius in a surgical theatre, seven historiated initials, a portrait of Vesalius, eleven full-page anatomical figures, including both mannikin leaves – the male intact, the female with parts excised and the figure partially completed, as intended (two of the small parts now missing, having become detached from the figure, final leaf backed with period paper, damp-staining, minor worming at bottom margin, horizontal mid-folds as usual). Contemporary ink underlining and two marginal annotations in Latin, discursive pencilled note in French on the front pastedown positing Calcar, not Titian, as the illustrator. Late-17th century brown and black acid-etched calf with six raised bands forming seven spine compartments, with gilt foliate in each compartment besides the second, which is gilt-lettered [VESA | EPIT], endpapers with watermarks of a grape bunch and the letters [I G], on interior leaves with forked cross and crown, and on leaf M and the unsigned mannikin leaves with a Y symbol inside a window (rubbed corners, cords exposed on spine).

Item #6204

Price: $250,000.00