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ALBINUS, Bernhard Siegfried (1697-1770)

Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani.
Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden], Prostant apud Joannem & Hermannum Verbeek, 1747-1757.

The first and original edition of all five parts of Albinus’ great scheme of anatomy – a complete survey of human anatomy. This monumental atlas in elephant folio contains what is considered the most artistic and accurate representation of the human body that has ever been published. Jan Wandelaar’s (1690–1759) artistic execution of the plates is incomparable and ranks among the best and most beautiful in the history of engraving. The harmonious and close realtionship between artist and anatomist lasted from 1721, when the two started to work together, until Wandelaar’s death in 1759. Albinus is said to have spent all in all 30 000 florins on the production of the work, whereas he only paid half that sum for his house in Leyden. Albinus, the celebrated professor of anatomy and surgery in Leiden, was no doubt the best descriptive anatomist of his day and the pioneer of a new epoch in human anatomy. Besides his own writings he edited the works of Eustachio, Fabricius and Harvey. In collaboration with Herman Boerhaave he edited a new edition of Vesalius’ works (1725), in which the two-hundred-year-old woodcuts are beautifully copied on copperplates by the master engraver Jan Wandelaar. Albinus had found his ideal artist and engaged him for his great enterprise. In 1732 Wandelaar left Amsterdam for good and went to live in Albinus’ house in Leiden. Albinus describes how Wandelaar worked for him: ”I was constantly with him, to direct him how every thing was to be done, assisting him in the drawing and correcting what was drawn. And thus he was instructed, directed, and as entirely ruled by me, as if he was a tool in my hands . . .” (transl. from the preface). ”Albinus’ work in anatomy was of a precision and care rarely matched in the history of anatomical illustration. Some time shortly before 1725, when he was in his twenties, Albinus developed an ambitious plan to publish large-scale engraved plates of human anatomy that would surpass in excellence all previous anatomical illustrations. The work was not only to better the original illustrations of Vesalius and Eustachio but also those in the perfected editions of these authors that Albinus himself edited. No major anatomist has applied himself so fully to anatomical illustrations over so long a period as did Albinus.” (Roberts and Tomlinson). Albinus was not married until his 69th year. After his death in 1770 his widow auctioned off his collection of specimens, which was bought for 6300 guilders by the University of Leiden, where many specimens are still preserved in their anatomical department. Anatomical studies in 1979 revealed that Albinus’ height was 167 cm, the same height that he had used in his anatomical studies as an ideal dimension for his ”homo perfectus”.

Collation: I: Title-leaf with engraved vignette, engraved dedication leaf, four leaves preface, and 42 text leaves, one leaf index. With 40 engraved plates (3 plates of the skeleton with 3 outline plates, 9 plates of musclemen with 9 outline plates, and 16 plates showing particular muscles and part of muscles). II: Tabulae ossium humanorum (1753): engraved title-leaf, engraved leaf of preface, 34 engraved plates with life-size figures of all the bones of the human adult, each with an additional outline plate, making a total of 68 plates. III & IV: Tabulae VII uteri mulieris gravidae, cum jam parturiret mortuae (1748). + Tabularum uteri mulieris gravidae appendix (1751): 7 engraved plates of the human pregnant uterus with foetus, and appendix plate of the foetus alone. V: Tabulae varis chyliteri cum vena azyga, arteriis interconstalibus aliisque vicinis partibus (1757): One engraved plate, with life-size figures of the thoracic duct, azygos vein, and intercostal arteries.

Binding: Contemporary calf, gilt decorated spine.

Provenance: Johan Jacob Leijonmarck, provincial physician in Uddevalla and Gothenburg with his annotation inside front cover, that he purchased the book in Amsterdam in May, 1767, for 127 Dutch Guilders, equivalent to 326 Thalers silver, to which comes 20 Thalers in Swedish customs duty and 20 Thalers for the binding, together 366 Thalers silver. After his death in 1818 the book was purchased by the Karolinska Institute for 50 Riksdaler Banco.

References: Garrison-Morton 399; Eimas, Heirs of Hippocrates 831; Choulant/Frank, pp. 276-83, Roberts and Tomlinson, pp. 320-29; Norman 29; Dordick Cat. 51-2.

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