one of the most magnificent illustrated anatomical works of the 16th century

De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres ... Una cum figuris et incisionum declarationibus, a Stephano Riverio chirurgo compositis.

Paris, Simon de Colines, 1545.

Folio, ff. [12], pp. 375 (recte 379), with Colines’ large woodcut device on title, 62 full-page woodcuts and 101 smaller woodcuts in the text; narrow strip cut away from upper outer corner of title; the title lightly stained; 18th-century French speckled calf, head and tail of spine expertly restored; upper outer margin of title with late 19th-century ownership inscription in ink.


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an unusually clean, crisp, and unsophisticated copy of the first edition of one of the most magnificent illustrated anatomical works of the 16th century.

The full-page woodcuts are striking examples of Mannerist art and are some of the most memorable images in medical illustration, surpassed only by Vesalius. Although published two years after Vesalius, the woodcuts were begun in 1530 and much of the printing had been completed by 1539, when work was interrupted by a lawsuit brought by the co-author, the surgeon Etienne de la Rivière, against Estienne. It is likely that Vesalius, who studied in Paris from 1533 to 1536, saw Estienne’s work and was influenced by it.

This is the ‘first published work to include illustrations of the whole external venous and nervous systems’ (Garrison-Morton) and is particularly important in neurology for containing the most detailed pre-Vesalian brain dissections. ‘His eight dissections of the brain, made in 1539, give more anatomical detail than had previously appeared, particularly the first graphical presentation of the difference between convolutional patterns of the cerebrum and cerebellum’ (McHenry, Garrison’s History of Neurology). ‘In the De dissectione, Estienne stated at the outset the principle of the new anatomical method: “One should not believe in books on anatomy but far more in one’s own eyes.”’ (DSB).

The woodcuts are outstanding. ‘The first cut is signed with the initials “S.R.”of the surgeon Etienne (Stephanus) de la Rivière, who assisted Estienne in preparing drawings of the anatomical details. Nine of the cuts are signed by Jollat, either with his name or with his sign of Mercury. A number of the Jollat blocks also have the dates 1530, 1531, or 1532. Six of the Jollat blocks and one other block also have a cutter’s signature of the Lorraine cross, probably from the Tory atelier (Jacquemin Woeiriot?). Several other blocks have small tablets or scrolls for an artist's signature, here left blank ... Most of the cuts have the anatomical portions of the figure on separate pieces inserted into the blocks ... Kellett suggests that the male figures in this series which are clearly corpses supported by trees and masonry may be based on anatomical designs known to have been made by Giovanni Battista Rosso from disinterred bodies from a burial ground at Borgo, the Rosso sketches providing the figure into which the La Rivière dissections could be inserted’ (Mortimer, 16th Century French Books, 213, on the French edition of the following year). Other suggestions for the origins of the strange, sometimes alluring or provocative, sometimes grotesque or surreal, images are that the figures were originally intended as anatomical models for artists, or that the series of female figures was originally a suite of erotic woodcuts.

For a detailed study of these images see Herrlinger, History of medical illustration from antiquity to 1600, pp. 87 et seq., C.E. Kellett, ‘Perino del Vaga et les illustrations pour l’anatomie d'Estienne,’ Aesculape 37 (1955), pp. 74-89, and ‘A note on Rosso and the illustrations of Charles Estienne’s De dissectione’, in Journal of the history of medicine 12, 1957, pp. 325-336, and Roberts and Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Body pp. 168-87.

Adams S1725; Bird 806; Durling 1391; En Français dans le texte 48; Garrison-Morton 378; Heirs of Hippocrates 256; Schreiber, Colines 222; Waller 2819; Wellcome 6076.