Photo Essay: Vesalius at 500

Earlier this week I finally found the time to check out the exhibit, Vesalius at 500 at Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library in Toronto, curated by Philip Oldfield. The exhibit chronicles the history of anatomy and anatomical illustrations prior to, and following, the anatomist Andreas Vesalius’ (1514-1564) publication of De humani corporis fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body), which was first published in 1543. De Fabrica exemplifies the perfect marriage between art and anatomy, between text and illustration. It is enormously detailed, brilliantly and profusely illustrated and helped to spearhead the new method for anatomical studies in which the anatomist combined the roles of dissector and instructor. Moreover, the book set the standard for all future publications of anatomical illustrations.

With de Fabrica, Vesalius introduced a number of important changes in the study of anatomy, including the notion that students must not depend their learning from authoritative textbooks, or even their teachers. Rather, Vesalius advocated the humanist doctrine to see for oneself: students should see and understand anatomy by looking and investigating the bodies themselves. Truth could be found under the skin, not in the books. While de Fabrica did not outline any shattering discoveries, Vesalius did correct 200 previously unquestioned theories, many of them from the Greek surgeon Galen’s works, which significantly relied on animal cadavers for anatomical studies. Other anatomists had previously criticized isolated pieces of Galenic anatomical doctrine, but de Fabrica was the first publication to systematically demonstrate how Galenic anatomy was mistaken.

As you can see below, de Fabrica is noteworthy for its illustrations, which were drawn by the Dutch artist Jan Stephan van Calcar (1499-1546). Vesalius used these technically accurate drawings of the dissected body to incorporate realism and reveal the process of dissection. De Fabrica thus laid the groundwork for observation-based anatomy, emphasizing anatomical statements could only be revealed by examining human cadavers first hand.

Please excuse the poor quality of some of the photos; I was not allowed to use my flash camera.

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In the second edition of De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Basel: J. Oporinus, 1555), the entire text was reset, with more space between lines and illustration; passages were deleted or amended. Most of the changes were stylistic. This is a copy of an extensively annotated second edition with Vesalius’ notes, revealing that Vesalius intended to publish a third edition that never came to pass.
In the second edition of De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Basel: J. Oporinus, 1555), the entire text was reset, with more space between lines and illustration; passages were deleted or amended. Most of the changes were stylistic. This is a copy of an extensively annotated second edition with Vesalius’ notes, revealing that Vesalius intended to publish a third edition that never came to pass.

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The standing book, featuring "Adam & Eve" is the Epitome, which was published as a condensed version of de Fabrica and intended for students. It cost one-sixth of the price and consisted of 12 folio leaves. Most of the illustrations here are reproduced from Fabrica, but some new ones are added for the purposes of instruction, including “Adam and Eve."
The standing book, featuring “Adam & Eve” is the Epitome, which was published as a condensed version of de Fabrica and intended for students. It cost one-sixth of the price and consisted of 12 folio leaves. Most of the illustrations here are reproduced from Fabrica, but some new ones are added for the purposes of instruction, including “Adam and Eve.”
When Vesalius sent his manuscript and woodblocks of illustration to his printer Johannes Oporinus, he attached a letter with specific instructions for printing. The letter included descriptions on how to align the text and illustrations. As well, Vesalius asked Oporinus to forbid anyone from printing any of the illustrations without his consent.  This book is the first unauthorized reproductions of the plates of Fabrica: Thomas Geminus, an engraver and printer from Flanders, who produced Compendiosa totius anatomie delineation (London: John Herford, 1545) under the command of King Henry VIII of England who wanted to improve the state of surgery. The Compendiosa was the first English book to have an engraved title page. In 1553, Geminus produced an English version for surgeons who did not know Latin; the English version was re-issued in 1559 with an engraving of the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth.
When Vesalius sent his manuscript and woodblocks of illustration to his printer Johannes Oporinus, he attached a letter with specific instructions for printing. The letter included descriptions on how to align the text and illustrations. As well, Vesalius asked Oporinus to forbid anyone from printing any of the illustrations without his consent.
This book is the first unauthorized reproductions of the plates of Fabrica: Thomas Geminus, an engraver and printer from Flanders, who produced Compendiosa totius anatomie delineation (London: John Herford, 1545) under the command of King Henry VIII of England who wanted to improve the state of surgery. The Compendiosa was the first English book to have an engraved title page. In 1553, Geminus produced an English version for surgeons who did not know Latin; the English version was re-issued in 1559 with an engraving of the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth.
Another plagiarism: Juan de Valverde de Amusco, Anatomia del corpo humano (Rome: Ant. Salmanca & Antonio Lafreri, 1560).
Another plagiarism: Juan de Valverde de Amusco, Anatomia del corpo humano (Rome: Ant. Salmanca & Antonio Lafreri, 1560).

The exhibit continued downstairs, but there was a class present. Alas, I didn’t get a chance to take a look at the second part of the exhibit. Go check out the exhibit when you can–it closes August 29.

You can see more illustrations from de Fabrica here.

The Death of William Whitbread

Despite the emerging popularity of Eustachian tube catheterization in France—particularly supported with Deleau’s air douche—British aurists remained ambivalent about applying the procedure for deaf patients. In addition to his herbal remedies, Alexander Turnbull performed surgical procedures on his patients, including syringing, removal of obstructions with forceps, and Eustachian tube catheterization. According to aurist William Wright, part of Turnbull’s shift from herbal remedies to surgical procedures was nothing more than self-advertisement: “Dr. Turnbull appears tacitly to have abandoned his remedies of such wondrous power, which produced the “extraordinary exhibition” mentioned in the newspapers, or to have added it to the old system newly revived and modified, of passing an instrument through the nostrils into the eustachian tube.”

The summer of 1839, however, was particularly transformative not only for Turnbull’s practice, but for aural surgery as a specialist profession. On Thursday June 20, sixty-eight year old William Whitbread visited Turnbull’s practice for an operation to treat “excessive deafness” which he had been “for some time labouring.” Continue reading The Death of William Whitbread

The Pretensions of Dr. Turnbull

I wrote about Dr. Alexander Turnbull (c. 1794-1881) in a previous post discussing his advertisements for deafness, particularly the use of veratria as a catch-all cure. Even though nearly all medical practitioners of the nineteenth century advertised in one form or another, Turnbull was especially prolific in advertising his cures and remedies, and often supplemented his advertisements with glowing testimonials from his patients. In fact, he even published a short book, Report of Facts Narrating Recoveries of the Deaf and Dumb in 1840, 1841, and 1848 (2nd edition, London: Printed by William Cathrall, 1840), which was printed for private distribution only, and contains pages and pages of testimonials and reviews of his cures as printed/advertised in a variety of periodicals!

Turnbull has also—perhaps notoriously—been the subject of a few highly publicized medical cases. Continue reading The Pretensions of Dr. Turnbull

What are the Causes? What are the Cures?

What are the causes of these obstructions [in the Eustachian tube & auditory nerves]? Various traumas, parasites or foreign bodies introduced by mistake, unstable fluids, effects of climate or food, and of age…

What are the cures? none when deafness had lasted for more than two years; the doctors were honest and declared it incurable. Otherwise they used the basic treatments for all diseases: purgatives, emetics, the inevitable bloodletting and diets which were prescribe until the 19th century. More or less long and varied cures included plasters, fumigations, instillations,  lozenges, and potions. Sometimes rather quaint advice slips in: to get the worm out of the ear, a piece of apple should be applied against the outer ear, and the work can’t resist it; in the case of a stray spider, a flea will work likewise. Surgical operations were carried out, but fortunately, only on a limited basis: the outer ear was incised to free the auditory duct and tumors were removed by various techniques. In case of some discharges, the liquids were sucked up with a cannula, or the extremity was heated to induce evaporation. Music therapy and acoustical trumpets complete the list of treatments, but they were less developed.

-Aude de Saint-Loup, “Images of the Deaf in Medieval Western Europe,” in Looking Back: A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and their Sign Languages. Eds. R. Fischer & H. Lane (Hamburg, Germany: Signum Verlag, 1993), 383.