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A fully annotated edition of Andreas Vesalius' groundbreaking work on human anatomy is available for bidding.
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A fully annotated edition of Andreas Vesalius’ groundbreaking work on human anatomy is available for bidding.

In 1543, Andreas Vesalius, a renowned physician during the Renaissance period, published a groundbreaking work on human anatomy. This revolutionized the field of medicine and drastically changed the approach of scientific inquiry.

An exceptional version of his De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, which has been valued at £1 million, will be auctioned for the first time after experts determined it contains notes made by Vesalius himself.

In 2007, a delicate book with 800 pages was purchased for approximately £8,500 by Dr. Gerard Vogrincic, a retired pathologist from Canada with a passion for medical history and collecting annotated medical books.

Annotations in Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem from 1543

Vesalius gained the title of “father of modern human anatomy” due to his thorough annotations in Latin throughout the entire text. These notes included crossed-out paragraphs, small changes to drawings, and corrections of punctuation and spelling mistakes. This attention to detail was highly impressive to the observer.

The book contained numerous pages filled with annotations. The annotator frequently crossed out and rewrote their notes in the margins, rather than simply underlining and making marginal notes to emphasize significant information. This individual was essentially rewriting the entire book.

Because he could not read Latin, Vogrincic compared the handwriting of the annotator to other known examples of Vesalius’s handwriting. After finding over 100 identical words, he reached out to Prof Vivian Nutton, a well-known expert on Vesalius at the UCL Centre for the History of Medicine. After reading and studying the annotations, Prof Nutton confirmed that they were indeed written by Vesalius.

A plate from Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Upon viewing the extensive amount of corrections, Nutton expressed astonishment and noted that some of the annotations were directions for the printer while others were personal notes that could only have been made by the author.

There is absolutely no doubt.

According to him, going through the annotations presents a one-of-a-kind chance to fully immerse oneself in the mind of Vesalius. It allows one to understand his thought process, what he finds intriguing, and his motivations for his actions.

Vogrincic had no idea when he bought the book that Vesalius had ever touched it, let alone annotated it, but he wanted it for his collection regardless. He said: “This book changed the way medicine was thought about. Before Vesalius wrote it, people just assumed that the ancient Greek physicians, Hippocrates and Galen, were the authorities – and shouldn’t be questioned.”

An annotated page from Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem from 1543

Galen, born in AD129, was the leading figure in the study of anatomy for 1000 years. However, his reports were primarily based on the dissection of animals like barbary apes. Despite his inaccuracies, his work remained influential as most anatomy professors, who taught students at universities, did not perform dissections themselves. This task was considered manual labor and was left to surgeons.

Vogrincic stated that Vesalius, known for his medical brilliance, became a professor at the young age of 23 and possessed a unique mindset. He was determined to conduct his own dissections and through this, realized that Galen’s teachings were incorrect. This led him to challenge the established authority and seek the truth for himself.

When Vesalius published his highly controversial discoveries in the Fabrica at the age of 28, he intertwined his text with detailed illustrations of the human anatomy, which were “unsurpassed at the time in beauty and accuracy and quality”, said Vogrincic.

Doctors consistently used his anatomical drawings as a resource for over two centuries. According to Nutton, it was an exceptional achievement that surpassed any other resources at the time. He efficiently developed an anatomical system and presented it in an original and innovative manner.

Another plate from the Seventh Book of the De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius

In 1555, Vesalius released a revised version of the Fabrica. Experts have determined that the copy being sold at Christie’s auction in New York on Wednesday contains notes made by the author for a potential third edition.

“These are notes partly that he made for the printer – but entirely for himself,” said Nutton, who spent two years studying the annotations, before other scholars were given access to the book via the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, where it was housed for over a decade.

Vogrincic was able to share his discovery with the public and maintain ownership by implementing this. “Collectors long for a discovery like this and it was definitely thrilling. However, insuring a book of such value in one’s home is incredibly expensive,” he noted.

Unfortunately, Vesalius passed away at the age of 50 in a tragic shipwreck before he could publish a third edition of the Fabrica. This special annotated version is now considered to be his last updates to his well-known text by scholars. “I am hesitant to keep it in my house, as I fear something might happen to it or my home. It is too valuable and costly,” expressed Vogrincic.

“It’s equivalent to possessing the crown jewels.”

Source: theguardian.com