The famous frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543) catches Vesalius in the act of practicing what he teaches: hands-on dissection. His commitment to this new kind of anatomical education began while he was still a medical student and serving as dissector for his professor, Johann Guinter, at the University of Paris in 1535. Two years later, newly appointed to the chair of anatomy and surgery at Padua, Vesalius created a new pedagogical tool: large woodcut broadsides of elaborate anatomical illustrations, drawn by himself and the artist Jan van Calcar.
However, the novel images of Tabulae Anatomicae sex (Venice, 1538) lacked explanatory text. For that, Vesalius turned back to the lectures he had heard Guinter give, which had been published meanwhile as Institutionum Anatomicarum Secundum Galeni Sententiam ad Candidatos Medicinae Libri Quatuor, per Joannem Guinterium Andernacum Medicum (Paris, 1536; Basel, 1536). As the first Renaissance textbook to use wholeheartedly the new humanist translations of Galen's anatomical works, Guinter's book was a natural choice, but it was not quite ideal. Vesalius hastened to put out his mentor's work “in a more accurate and enlarged form,” correcting its errors—blamed on the printers’ “excessive haste” and “negligence” (18)—adding details from his own dissections, and occasionally venturing to challenge Galen himself.
The result was Institutionum Anatomicarum Secundum Galeni Sententiam ad Candidatos Medicinae Libri Quatuor per Ioannem Guinterium Andernacum Medicum AB ANDREA VVESALIO BRUxellensi Auctiores & Emendatiores Redditi (Venice, 1538; Basel, 1539). It was an unpretentious little book, with no pictures. Vivian Nutton argues in the introduction to his English translation that its neglect by historians of medicine has done an injustice both to Vesalius and to Guinter. Guinter's lectures, largely transcribed on the spot, capture the immediacy of cutting open a cadaver: “Sever the optic nerve … remove the eye from the skull … Then give the base of the eye to the helper to hold in his left hand and the optic nerve in the right, and cut the [eye's] six muscles” (143).
Nutton's deeply learned translation, commentary, and indexes would be a welcome addition to the Vesalian literature in any case. But there is a bonus. Vesalius could not stop tinkering with this book, and by great good luck, his own copy of the Venice 1538 work survives. The copy's modern owner, Dr. Stuart Rose, generously allowed Nutton to examine the volume and transcribe Vesalius's 250 or so manuscript annotations. Nutton's arguments for dating those notes to 1538–40 are persuasive. The notes do not allude to Vesalius's new anatomical discoveries, and, unlike the Fabrica, they refer only to early Galen editions rather than to the Venice Giunta 1541–42 edition to which Vesalius contributed.
I have alerted Nutton to one small correction. The introduction confuses the 1536 Basel reprint of Guinter's textbook, published by Balthasar Lasius and Thomas Platter (whose younger son, the future anatomist Felix Platter, was born that year), with Guinter's own 1539 revision of Institutiones, which was published by Robert Winter, a former partner of Lasius and Platter. (For details of these intertwined relationships, see Frank Hieronymus's remarkable 2005 study of Basel printing and medicine, Theophrast und Galen–Celsus und Paracelsus 1, entries 134, 135.)
To understand the intellectual and institutional world Vesalius inhabited, it is wise to go straight to the work of Nancy G. Siraisi. As the editors’ appreciative introduction and the ten contributions to this festschrift amply demonstrate, Siraisi's approaches to the continuities and innovations of medieval, Renaissance, and early modern medicine have deeply influenced the discipline of the history of medicine.
The opening essays reflect Siraisi's early studies of medical teaching in medieval universities. Danielle Jacquart points out some “traces of [medical] theories which may have disturbed religious minds” (3) in Augustine and thirteenth-century biblical commentaries. A Montpellier student's manuscript notes allow Michael McVaugh to eavesdrop on Master Bernard de Angarra explicating the “new” Galenic text of De malitia complexionis diverse to his class, well before 1309, when the text was put on the required curriculum. The next four contributions address Siraisi's recognition of the participation of learned physicians in the Republic of Letters, especially through their interest in history. Chiara Crisciani analyzes the letters regarding treatments for particular patients written by the Padua professor of practical medicine Bartolomeo da Montagnana (d. 1452). By displaying his vast erudition in medicine, natural philosophy, and classical culture, Montagnana's consilia at once reassured patients and enhanced his own reputation. Complementary essays by Vivian Nutton and Anthony Grafton on John Caius, the English physician (and Vesalius's roommate in Padua), explore Caius's lifelong preoccupation with the history of Cambridge University, his use of manuscript sources, and his connections to Matthew Parker's larger project, the ecclesiastical history of Britain. Ian Maclean dissects the catalogue of a private medical library, proudly published in 1572 by its well-traveled, well-read owner, the Augsburg physician Hieremias Martius; its scope, from classical and medieval texts to up-to-date treatises in both Latin and vernaculars, implied a broad interest on Martius's part in the development of his profession.
The volume's final section presents Renaissance and early modern physicians in their expanding roles as authors, teachers, and collectors. Ann Blair argues that although Conrad Gessner never found the perfect patron, his extraordinary, multidisciplinary productivity was assisted by his strategic use of dedications—more than one hundred between 1537 and his death, from plague, in 1565—to royalty, nobility, the Fuggers, diplomats, bishops, city senates, medical faculties, learned printers, beloved students, and fellow scholars (including John Caius). Hiro Hirai gives a close analysis of Thomas Fienus's arguments (1609) on a soul/mind/body problem dear to centuries of biblical commentators, philosophers, and medical thinkers: Why do strong emotions in a pregnant woman leave an imprint on her fetus? Or, more generally, how does the faculty of imagination act at a distance? Domenico Bertoloni Meli highlights the medical genre of illustrated observationes deployed by Dutch physicians, a century after Vesalius, to record anatomical curiosities and malformations (including a case of a newborn's spina bifida attributed to a maternal craving for turnips).
In the festschrift's longest essay, a virtuoso study by Paula Findlen, the conjoined themes of “knowledge and community” (127) epitomize both Siraisi's career and that of the Renaissance naturalist Luca Ghini (ca. 1490–1556). Ghini published virtually nothing. But—through his inspired, hands-on botanical teaching at Bologna and Pisa; his generosity with his collections, drawings, and observations; his founding of the first university botanical garden; and, above all, his technique of preserving pressed plants in herbaria—he created Europe's first community of naturalists; and they insured his memory did not perish.
This volume, too, offers a bonus. Nancy Siraisi's “A Life of Learning,” reflecting on her own mentors and scholarly pathways, is reprinted here, although inexplicably absent from the table of contents (Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture, ACLS Occasional Paper No. 67, 2010; also online at http://www.acls.org/). The volume lacks an index, but it does include a valuable bibliography of Siraisi's publications. That list misses a number of items, among them (full disclosure) her generous 1993 review of a book of mine. If I had been smart enough to read everything Siraisi (and Nutton) had written up to then, that would have been a much better book!