Behold the Body: Capturing the Spectacle of the Anatomy Theater

– by Jessica Sara Sternbach*


The frontispieces and title pages of early anatomical texts served as teasers for many Early Modern readers, offering the primary information necessary to engage with the text. Once the spine was cracked opened, the viewer would encounter these new medical ideas for the first time, whether it be the authority of a post-Vesalian anatomist as in the Anatomia reformata by Steven Blankaart (1695), the philosophical prowess and artistic pride of William Cheselden and Gerard van der Gucht’s Anatomy of the Human Body (1740), or the sublime awe of the embryology of Nicolaas Hoboken’s Anatomia secundinae (1675). The illustrations in these books drew upon existing visual language in order to decrypt the unfamiliar medical subject matter. Mastery was needed from both the artist and the anatomist, who were trying to comprehend and clarify what it meant to be human.

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Ghoulies and ghosties and medieval beasties

10a 249 is nearly the only illuminated manuscript we have in the Library.  As I mentioned last week, 6 out of the 7 original illuminations are still extant.  All 6 are initials, and the one pictured below signifies the beginning of Book IV and features 3 human heads.


Close-up of illuminated initial, f. 132r. Bernard de Gordon’s Lilium medicinae, 1348 (Oxford?). Call no. 10a 249.

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The Lily of Medicine

Bernard de Gordon finished his Lilium medicinae in 1305 at the University of Montpellier.  Lilium medicinae (literally, the lily of medicine) is his most well-known work.  It is an encyclopedia of diseases with their symptoms, causes, effects, and treatments; and includes plague, tuberculosis, scabies, epilepsy, anthrax, and leprosy.  Lilium survives in approximately 50 manuscripts (and numerous later, printed volumes) and was translated into French, German, and Hebrew in the 14th century, and Spanish and Irish in the 15th century.  It was considered required reading at Montpellier beginning in the early 1400s.


Front cover, Bernard de Gordon’s Lilium medicinae, 1348 (Oxford?). Call no. 10a 249.

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Tracing 10a 159 through time*

We know, thanks to our scribe Christoforus B., that 10a 159 was completed in July 1493.  But where did go from there?  We don’t know who the first owners may have been, but book stamps, inscriptions, and sale catalogues can tell us about later owners.


front flyleaf, Macer Floridus, De virtutibus herbarum , 1493, 10a 159


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