(Leyden: Johann Arnold Langerak, 1739). 540 x 380 mm. (21 1/4 x 15").  leaves of text.Translated by William Dundass. First Edition in Latin.
Original red quarter vellum over marbled boards, raised bands, UNTRIMMED EDGES. Engraved printer's device on title, large decorative initials and tailpieces, EXTRA ENGRAVED TITLE AND 114 STRIKING PLATES OF ANATOMICAL FIGURES (three folding). Wellcome II, 401; Heirs of Hippocrates 468; Choulant-Frank, pp. 252-3; Russell 213. ◆Vellum on spine rather worn, with three one-and-one-half-inch pieces broken away revealing structure underneath, paper boards quite chafed, other minor problems externally, but an entirely solid unrestored binding. A couple of plates with short closed marginal tears, one folding plate with one-inch closed tear into image (no loss), untrimmed edges a little browned and brittle, with isolated small chips, occasional minor foxing or insignificant stains, three plates lightly browned, but still AN UNUSUALLY ATTRACTIVE COPY INTERNALLY, with the broadest of margins, with especially clean and fresh leaves, and with rich impressions of the plates.
With plates of notable visual impressiveness, this was the finest anatomy book in England during the first half of the 18th century; it also was largely a plagiarism, borrowing most of its engraved content from a work by the Dutch physician Govert Bidloo published in 1685. Bidloo's work was the first large-scale anatomical atlas to appear after Vesalius' epoch-making "De Humani Corporis Fabrica," and the plates, which are highly praised by Norman and Garrison-Morton, are characterized by startlingly detailed life-size depictions of the human body (both adult and infant), with figures flayed to reveal muscles, opened to show organs, and unfleshed to exhibit bones. According to Choulant-Frank, Bidloo's publishers sold 300 impressions of these plates to Cowper, probably to recoup some of their money after disappointing sales. Cowper took Bidloo's original 105 plates, added nine of his own, and produced an English translation of the original Latin text to accompany them. Discussing the original plates produced by Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711), Norman says that the figures are displayed "in an emotional, almost tender manner, contrasting the raw dissected parts with the full, soft surfaces of uncut flesh, placing flayed, bound figures in ordinary nightclothes or bedding, setting ordinary household objects such as books, jars, or cabinets in the same scene as cut-up torsos or limbs. His illustrations brought the qualities of Dutch still-life painting into anatomical illustration, and gave a new, darker spiritual expression to the significance of the act of dissection." When Cowper's version of the atlas first appeared as "The Anatomy of Humane Bodies" in London in 1698 (there was also a 1737 Leyden printing in English before our more scholarly Latin edition), Bidloo complained to the Royal Society and accused Cowper of plagiarism and fraud, resulting in much acrimony and heated pamphleteering between the two physicians. Notwithstanding this scandal, Cowper's achievements and discoveries--including the pair of glands that bear his name--were considerable, and his text improved significantly upon the original work. Unfortunately, as the DNB notes, "the notoriety of this case has served to obscure a true appreciation of Cowper and of his many original contributions to anatomical illustration." The atlases of Bidloo and Cowper appear on the market regularly, but at 540 x 380 mm., the present copy is distinguished by its size, which is significantly larger than what is typically seen with this edition--we have not been able to trace a copy larger than ours from marketplace or institutional records. (ST12883)