An Excellent Copy in Contemporary Pigskin of the First Printing of Vesalius with Engraved Illustrations


(Nuremberg: Julius Paulus Fabricius, 1551). 423 x 300 mm. (16 5/8 x 11 3/4"). 2 p.l., 78 leaves, the sheets mounted on guards, as always (see below). First Edition of the German Digest.

Fine contemporary blind-stamped pigskin over bevelled wooden boards, covers with multiple frames of decorative palm rolls, a roll of biblical figures, and two medallion rolls enclosing a small central panel, the panel on the upper cover with inlaid painted oval coat of arms, the book's title stamped above this and "1586" stamped below, the lower cover with a central panel stamp of Justice; original brass cornerpieces and clasps. With arms of the city of Nuremberg on title page, and WITH 40 FINE ENGRAVED ANATOMICAL PLATES. Cockx-Indestege, "Andreas Vesalius, A Belgian Census" 57; Cushing, "A Bibliography of Andreas Vesalius" VI.D.-4; Durling 4583; Heirs of Hippocrates 292; Wellcome 6568 (defective). Pigskin rather darkened, quite a number of tiny wormholes and a couple of scratches and minor stains, spine ends a bit rubbed, but the impressive original binding quite sound and generally well preserved, with no serious wear and its original hardware intact. Title with narrow section cut away at lower edge (to remove previous owner's name?), dedication leaf with small blank portion at lower corner renewed, small, round wormholes throughout (as many as three dozen per leaf at the back, but rapidly diminishing to just three or four, and only minimally affecting text or engraved surface), occasional unimportant stains and trivial tears. A REALLY EXCELLENT CONTEMPORARY COPY, the leaves quite fresh, clean, and wide margined.

This is an attractive copy in contemporary pigskin of the first edition of the rare German digest of Vesalius' "Fabrica" and "Epitome," and just the second appearance in any vernacular language of a watershed work in the history of medicine. It is notable as the first printing of Vesalius with engraved, rather than woodcut, illustrations. Although Vesalius is acknowledged in the introduction, this is essentially a pirated edition—the first of dozens to appear across Europe—put out by the Nuremberg physician Jacob Baumann (1521-86), with copies of the anatomical plates from Thomas Geminus' "Compendiosa Totius Anatomiae Delineation" (London, 1545). Born in Brussels, Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) received his medical education in Louvain and Paris. He moved to Padua, where he began teaching anatomy, and eventually became physician to the German emperor Charles V and his son Philipp II. Vesalius' revolutionary findings challenged older medical teaching derived from Galen, whose anatomy had been based on the dissection only of animals. In Padua, Vesalius developed his new observations through human dissection, working on the bodies of executed criminals. His "De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem" ("The Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body") was first published in Latin in 1543 in Basel, illustrated with its famous naturalistic woodcut figures, made under the author's close supervision. The now extremely rare "Epitome," an abridged version designed as a teaching aid, appeared the same year, also in Basel. The large woodcut figures were re-cut, on a slightly larger scale, and two new figures of a male and a female nude (Adam and Eve) were added. Published in the same place and year, a German translation of the "Epitome"—with the same woodcut illustrations—was prepared by Alban Thorer. As pointed out by Cockx-Indestege in her census, and by Cushing in his "Bio-Bibliography" of Vesalius, our "book is something of a curiosity since it is printed on single, unfolded sheets with adjacent pages of the gatherings pasted together so as to facilitate assemblage." (Cushing, p. 132) The coat of arms on the upper cover features a man (the "wild man" or "green man") clutching two plants in either hand, above an escutcheon. At one time this was painted, and it still retains some of the original color, as does the gilt wreath surrounding the image, which was painted green. This book is uncommonly seen and almost never appears in agreeable condition in a period binding.