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VESALIUS, Andreas (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543.

VESALIUS, Andreas (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543.


VESALIUS, Andreas (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543.


Folio (14 4/8 x 9 4/8 inches). Collation: *6 (*5 supplied in facsimile); A-Z6 a-l6 m2 (m3 and double-page, also signed m3, in facsimile) m4-m6 (+1) n-o6 p4 (double-page, signed p4, in facsimile) q-z6 Aa-Ii6 Kk-Ll6 Mm8. 355 leaves (and two double-pages in facsimile). Roman and italic types, occasional use of Greek and Hebrew types, printed shoulder notes. Woodcut pictorial title-page showing Vesalius reaching into the abdomen on a female cadaver and looking out at the reader (trimmed to within the neat line at the top, laid down, with minor losses to the fore-edge just affecting the image, and two closed tears extending into the image about 3 inches each), full-page portrait of Vesalius, probably after Jan Stephan Calkar (died 1568)(tipped-in), and printer's device at end; more than 200 woodcut illustrations, including 3 full-page skeletons, 14 full-page muscle-men, 5 large diagrams of veins and nerves (2 double-pages, one of veins and one of nerves supplied in facsimile), 10 mid-sized views of the abdomen, 2 mid-sized views of the thorax, 13 mid-sized views of the skull and brain, and numerous smaller views of bones, organs and anatomical parts, 7 large, 186 mid-sized, and 22 small woodcut historiated initials all after Vesalius and an unknown artist from the studio of Titian, possibly Flemish artist Jan van Calcar (one full-page with 8 images supplied in facsimile) (several marginal repairs to wormholes and other minor losses very occasionally just touching the image or text, particularly to the fore-margins of Q5 to T3, also small repairs to several corners). Modern full vellum, black morocco lettering-pieces on the spine; preserved in a cloth clamshell box.

Provenance:  Ink library stamps removed from the verso of the portrait and at least one margin; one or two early marginal annotations and underscoring; early 19th-century French auction catalogue entry for this example on the front paste-down showing that this example was already without the two folding plates, and *5; from the library of Alfred Duff Cooper, first Viscount Norwich (1890–1954), diplomatist and politician, with his bookplate by Leo Wyatt (died 1981) on front paste-down showing a human skeleton charting a course to Africa, using his copy of De humani corporis fabrica libri septem as a workbench.

FIRST EDITION OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE ACCURATE STUDY OF HUMAN ANATOMY, a work of exacting and ground-breaking scientific method and illustration, but also a book of extraordinary and surprising beauty, giving what might have been a textbook rendering of skeletal structure, abdominal viscera and thoracic organs, the venous and nervous systems, and musculature, an artistic perspective and setting.

Even the book's structure is revolutionary: each of the seven books that make up the De humani corporis fabrica libri septem explains and illustrates a single anatomical system, starting with the skeleton and then progressing logically from the inside out. Using as his starting point the studies of prominent ancient Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher Aelius Galenus (or Claudius Galenus), better known as Galen of Pergamon (AD 129 – c. 200 - 216), Vesalius, rather controversially, based his theories on a painstaking personal dissection and study of cadavers of the human body, rather than those of animals. He demonstrated his method publicly at popular lectures, like the one illustrated on the title-page, in Padua. The wood blocks for the illustrations, many of which feature scenes from the countryside surrounding Padua, were cut in Venice and transported across the Alps by mule to Basel, where the printer Oporinus received them with strict and copious instructions from Vesalius as to their placement in the apposite text.

Vesalius was only 29 when he published his De humani corporis fabrica libri septem: "all major investigators of anatomy were compelled to recognize the new principle, even though at first some paid no more than lip service to it... In the Fabrica Vesalius made many contributions to the body of anatomical knowledge, by description of structures hitherto unknown, by detailed descriptions of structures known only in the most elementary terms, and by the correction of erroneous descriptions... his contribution was far greater than that of any previous author, and for a considerable time all anatomists, even those unsympathetic to him, were compelled to refer to the Fabrica... [But] more important than the anatomical information contained in the Fabrica was the scientific principle enunciated therein. This was beyond criticism, fundamental to anatomical research, and has remained so" (O'Malley, DSB).

Published in the same year as another extremely important, revolutionary, scientific landmark in human thought, Nicolaus Copernicus' (1473–1543) De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI, which proposed that the sun was stationary in the center of the universe and the earth revolved around it, Vesalius'  De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, is at the heart of the fabric of the Renaissance. In an age which challenged the philosophy of the ancients with recourse to direct observation, Vesalius' observations propelled not only scientific methods but artistic ones too. With the publication of De humani corporis fabrica libri septem Vesalius provided painters and sculptors with templates for visualizing the curves and forms of the bones and muscles of the human body, which was only preceded by the work of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), whose anatomical illustrations were not published until after those of Vesalius. Adams V-603; Choulant-Frank, pp. 178-80; Cushing VI.A.-1; Dibner Heralds of Science 122; Garrison-Morton 375; Grolier/Horblit 98; Grolier Medicine 18A; NLM/Durling 4577; Norman 2137; PMM 71; Stillwell Science 710. Cushing, H. A Bio-Bibliography of Andreas Vesalius. (New York: Schuman's, 1943). Catalogued by Kate Hunter

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