Anatomia (1604)

Anatomia (1604)


Anatomia (1604)



Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)

Andreas Vesalius’ name is synonymous with the most important anatomical text of the last 1000 years. Born on December 31, 1514, in the suburb of Wesel outside of Brussels, today’s Belgium, Vesalius comes from a long line of royal apothecaries in the service of the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE). His father served Charles I, HR Emperor (Charles V, Spanish King). Young Andreas had an inquisitive mind. He dissected small animals, and when given a chance, he even peered into the innards of those hung on Gallows Hill, not far from his home. Anatomical curiosity led him to the University of Leuven, Paris, Leuven again, and Padua, when in 1537, he obtained his doctoral degree and was appointed Professor of Anatomy. Dissections were based on a few books (Mondino de’ Liuzzi) with rudimentary illustrations. The professor (lector) would read from Mondino’s text, a second person (sector)  would dissect the cadaver, and a third person (ostensor) would point to what was being read about. The disjointed method was about to change. Vesalius, at 23, was about to embark on a revolutionary change. He, one person, will fill the three roles: he will dissect, point, and read at the same time. Furthermore, he invited a fellow Belgian artist who was in the service of Titian to help him illustrate the human body. By 1543, Vesalius completed his masterpiece, the most complete, professional, and artistically beautiful text, De Humanis Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, The Working of the Human Body in Seven Volumes. Printed in Basel, the book became a bestseller. 1555, a second edition was published with the same illustrations and engraved blocks. A third (unauthorized) edition was issued in 1568, four years after Vesalius’ death. Finally, in a fourth folio edition in 1604, our copy was published as a student anatomy text, most likely during the term of Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aquapendente’s term as Professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua.  

Today, if available, the first folio editions of the Fabrica are sold for $300,000-$1,000,000. Second folio editions are rare and also fetch six figures.  Our copy, the fourth folio edition (fifth overall), was purchased at an affordable price for our library. It had several missing pages, including the Frontispiece and a section of eight pages describing the male genitals. It is our conjecture that the pages were removed on purpose to protect the chastity of nuns who used this book to study. The 1604 edition uses the 1568 Francesco de’ Franceschi’s edition and the same woodcut blocks by Criegher.

To restore our copy, actual size photocopies of the missing pages were reinserted, and the rather deteriorated 19th-century thin paper binding was replaced with leather binding (see before and after photos above).

Edititorial notes by Andrew I Spielman.

Digital Version

Anatomia (1604) >>>