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    Andreas Vesalius. De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. Basel: [Johannes Oporinus, 1543]. First edition. Folio in sixes (14.125 x 9.875 inches; 360 x 250 mm.). [12], 659 [i.e., 663], [1], [36] pages (pages 313-491 misnumbered 213-391 and pages 662-663 misnumbered 658-659), including the double-page folding leaves signed m3 and p4. *6 A-Z6 a-l6 m6 (5 + 1 folding sheet) n-o6 p4 (3 + 1 folding sheet) p5 q-z6 Aa-Ll6 Mm8. *6 (portrait leaf) and Mm8 (colophon leaf) supplied in facsimile, lacking the Charta parvas leaf; Engraved title-page, more than 200 full-page illustrations and intertextual woodcut illustrations throughout, double-page illustrations lined with kozo paper and starch paste. Early rigid parchment over thick boards; leather spine label lettered and tooled in gilt; page edges sprinkled light red. Parchment worn with skillful repairs to upper edge of front board and spine ends; backstrip browned with some soiling to lower portion; minor stains and insect damage; spine label edges chipped. Page edges somewhat soiled. Hinges repaired. Title leaf repaired with paper added to upper-portion of inner margin; a few leaves washed (including double-page leaves) or re-margined; marginal worm damage; foxed but many leaves still quite bright. A very good restored copy, housed in a cloth clamshell case.

    "By this epoch-making work Vesalius, the 'Father of Modern Anatomy', prepared the way for the rebirth of physiology by Harvey. More important still, he undermined the widespread reverence for authority in science and prepared the way for independent observation in anatomy and clinical medicine. The publication of this book was the greatest event in medical history since the work of Galen." (Garrison and Morton, 375).

    "The Fabrica, a handsomely printed folio, is remarkable for its series of magnificent plates, which set new technical standards of anatomical illustration, and indeed of book illustration in general. They have generally been ascribed to an artist of Titian's school... No other work of the sixteenth century equals it... It was translated, reissued, copied and plagiarized over and over again and its illustrations were used or copied in other medical works until the end of the eighteenth century" (Printing and the Mind of Man, 71).

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    Early in Vesalius' studies he, as most other physicians, was a devotee of the works of Galen; however, while dissecting human bodies as a lecturing anatomist, he began to see contradictions between the texts of Galen and his own personal observations.
    "In 1539 his supply of dissection material became much greater when Marcantonio Contarini, judge of the Paduan criminal court, became interested in Vesalius' investigations and made the bodies of executed criminals available to him - occasionally delaying executions to suit the convenience of the young anatomist. For the first time Vesalius had sufficient human material to make and to repeat detailed and comparative dissections. As a result, he became increasingly convinced that Galen's description of human anatomy was basically an account of the anatomy of animals in general and was often erroneous insofar as the human body was concerned. During the winter of 1539 he was sufficiently sure of his position to challenge the validity of Galenic anatomy in Padua...
    "Vesalius' greatest contribution to the elucidation of anatomy is to be found in the illustrations to the Fabrica. With the exception of those few diagrammatic illustrations that are known to have been drawn by him there is no positive identification of individual draftsmen. The soundest theory is that they were students from Titian's studio in Venice. Possibly among them was Jan Stephen of Calcar, who drew the three figures of the skeleton for the published version of Vesalius' anatomical plates of 1538; but the three skeletons of the Fabrica are so greatly superior to those of the earlier work that it seems unlikely that Calcar was responsible for them." -  DSB, Volume 14, pages 5 and 8.

    "It is often a matter of friendly contention among medical historians as to which is the "more important" book, Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica or Harvey's De motu cordis. It cannot be denied that the Fabrica is the most famous anatomical work ever published, to this day one of the most beautiful in existence, and the milestone in all medical history which definitely showed a break from old traditions. It cannot be emphasized too often that this was an epochal book. The beautiful woodcuts, executed under the supervision of Vesalius by the artist Jan Stephan van Calcar (1499-1546?), student of Titian, are famous for their beauty, accuracy, and lavishness of detail and number. It was E. Jackschath of Tilsit who pointed out that the background scenes of the "muscle men" illustrations are, when collected into a continuum, a dioramic replica of the Paduan countryside of the time of Vesalius. The often-copied frontispiece dissecting scene, a portrait of Vesalius dissecting the arm, and the innumerable capital letters (depicting grave robbing, naked little boys urinating with abandon, operation for the stone, childbirth, cranial operations, etc.) are as fascinating a study as are the 171 anatomical plates... This first edition of the Fabrica is the heart of any library of medical history." Heirs of Hippocrates, 281
    The Fabrica was published in August 1543, although the colophon states it was published in June of that year. (DSB).

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    March, 2017
    8th Wednesday
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