Folio (ca. 41 x 28 cm): -659 [=663]-- pp. (front.: soiled, upper and left margin underlaid; *2-*5 and A1: stained and soiled, margins underlaid and repaired; author's portrait in reproduction on laid paper; quires A2-G4 with (damp)staining and soiling in upper outer corner and top of outer margin, gradually improving through the named quires; quires Ee4-Mm8 (the end) with dampstaining in the outer margins only sporadically touching the text and with pyramidal gradient).
20th-c. brown leather, gilt orn. spine with 5 raised bands, later endpapers (spine, bands and sides sl. rubbed).
First edition of perhaps the most beautiful medical book ever published by the Brussels born anatomist and physician A. Vesalius (1514-1564), father of modern human anatomy. Vesalius studied in Leuven, became Professor at the University of Padua (1537-1542) and later Imperial physician at the court of Emperor Charles V.
Illustrated with: a woodcut pictorial title incorporating several references to Vesalius' achievements and innovations: "a skeleton that occupies the seat of honour while the professor does the dissection [of a female cadaver] and the disconsolate barbers sit on the floor and swap their unused razors"; an author's portrait (in reproduction), two woodcut plates showing the veins and the nerves of a body (here presented as double-page plates and not as folding plates as sometimes occurs), and more than 200 woodcuts showing full-page skeletons, full-page muscle-men, diagrams of veins and nerves, mid-sized views of the abdomen, the thorax, the skull and the brain, and numerous views of bones, organs and anatomical parts. The work is divided in 5 books dealing with: bones and muscles, blood vessels, nerves, abdominal viscera, thoracic organs and the brain.
In 1543 Vesalius asked Johannes Oporinus to publish his groundbreaking work of human anatomy which he dedicated to Charles V. The "Fabrica" emphasized the priority of dissection and the anatomical view of the body. Seeing the human internal functioning as a result of an essentially corporeal structure filled with organs was in stark contrast to many of the anatomical models used previously which had strong Galenic/Aristotelean elements, as well as elements of astrology. Vesalius revolutionized not only the science of anatomy but also how it was taught. He insisted that human anatomy should be learned from the study of the human body and that the physician should undertake dissection himself rather than leave this work to assistants; while Galen had been forced to rely upon the dissection of animals. "The result was [...] a complete anatomical and physiological study of every part of the human body, based on first-hand examination and his [Vesalius] five year's experience as public prosector in he medical school at Padua" (Printing and the Mind of Man).
The "Fabrica" combines scientific exposition, art and typography in a way unprecedented in the 16th c. and seldom equalled in later times. The more than 200 woodblocks marked a new level of realism and detail in anatomical illustration. They were prepared in Venice under Vesalius' supervision and shipped to the publisher Oporinus in Basel with the author's precise instruction for placing them in relation to the text and for keying explanations printed in the margins to particular illustrations or details. There is much speculation about the identity of the artist. On the basis of a statement by Vasari, they have been attributed to Jan Stephen van Calcar (ca. 1499-1546/50), a Flemish compatriot of Vesalius and pupil of Titian. Calcar had already contributed to the three drawings of skeletons in Vesalius' "Tabulae anatomicae sex", but differences in artistic quality between the "Tabulae's" skeletons and those of the "Fabrica" suggest that Calcar was not responsible for the latter work. He may well have been responsible for some of the details and may have supervised the accuracy of the drawings as well as the cutting of the woodblocks. The illustrations of the Fabrica are now judged to be the work of an unidentified artist or artists of the school of Titian.
The illustrations of the "Fabrica" are also significant for their iconographic content. The historiated initials depict putti and dwarfs carrying out activities associated with the act of dissection. They have been called visual footnotes to the text. Printed in roman, italic, and occasional Greek and Hebrew types. Printer's device at the end.
Ref. VD16 V-910. - Adams V-603. - Garrison & Morton 375. - Osler 567. - Waller 9899. - Durling 4577. - Wellcome 6560. - Cockx-Indestege (Vesalius census) 29. - Cushing, A Bio-Bibliography, pp. 79-90. - Printing and the Mind of Man 71.
Prov. Stamp on title.
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