(London: J. Purser for the Author, 1766). 457 x 584 mm. (18 x 23"). 2 p.l., 47 pp. FIRST EDITION.
Expertly bound to style in 18th-century half russia over 18th-century marbled paper-covered boards, raised bands, spine attractively gilt in compartments with large central fleuron composed of small tools, red morocco label. WITH 24 ENGRAVED PLATES. Text and plates mounted on tabs. Dingley 600; Lennox-Boyd, pp. 165-88; Podeschi, Mellon Collection 57; Nissen ZBI 4027; Ray, "England," p. 6; Norman 2032 (later issue); Garrison-Morton 308.1. A couple of ink spots to rear pastedown, text lightly washed and pressed, expert repairs to margins of title page, preface, and three other leaves, otherwise a fine copy, clean and fresh internally with sharp impressions of the engravings, in a most unusual unworn binding.
This is a work Ray proclaims as "a landmark in the history both of anatomy and of art," and our copy has plates printed on the highly desirable laid paper, used for this 1766 first issue and for most other copies published during Stubbs' lifetime. The engravings printed on laid paper have a precision and crispness lacking in the later impressions on wove paper. A largely self-taught artist who had been intrigued by anatomy and drawing from nature at an early age, Stubbs (1724-1806) created these remarkable images over a period of 18 months, during which he painstakingly dissected a number of horses, using hooks and tackle to suspend the bodies from a barn ceiling in order to pose the beast "in a seemingly natural attitude, its hooves resting upon a plank." (DNB) Unable to find someone willing to turn his renderings into engravings, Stubbs taught himself the technique, and produced the engravings over the next six years. The plates document all layers of equine anatomy, revealing in succession the muscles, fascia, ligaments, nerves, arteries, veins, glands, cartilages, and skeleton. His grisly process, Ray notes, "may have given offence" but "the fine exactness and austere truth of his engravings give them a timeless beauty." Stubbs' bibliographer Lennox-Boyd observes that the work "remained the standard authority on the subject for nearly a century. . . . It is entirely appropriate to rank 'The Anatomy of the Horse' with Thomas Pennant's 'British Zoology' (1770) and Gilbert White's 'Natural History of Selbourne' (1789), among the most important of the several works of this time which, by emphasising the importance of precise systematic observation, revolutionised men’s understanding of the natural world." While the copies with plates on wove paper are not uncommon in the marketplace, those like ours with early issue plates on laid paper are increasingly difficult to find. Our volume has the unusual distinction of being bound with leather well over 200 years old and yet used for a binding only very recently. The leather had been tanned and curried in St. Petersburg in 1785 but then, as cargo, ended up in the hold of a ship that was wrecked in the English Channel. The treated skins remained on the sea floor until they were salvaged in the 20th century. They have since been offered for sale over the years by the enterprising Anglo-American firm of Snelson & Brown, purveyors of antique hides to be used for various objects, including book bindings. (Lhi21053)