Treasures of the PI Nixon Library Blog

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon

Early ophthalmology text turns 500 this year

First page of treatise "De oculis" from Champier's _Speculum Galeni_

The PI Nixon Medical Historical Library is celebrating the 500th birthday of one of its treasures, an edition of Symphorien Champier’s Speculum Galeni.  The book includes one of the first treatises on ophthalmology ever printed.

Symphorien Champier (1472-1539) was an early French humanist and physician to Charles VIII, Louis XII, and the Duke of Lorraine.  He settled in Lyon, where he established the College of the Doctors of Lyon and studied Greek and Arab scholars as well as medicinal science, composing a great number of historical works.   He was also an admirer of Galen, the great second-century Greek physician and philosopher.  Champier set out to expand his contemporary colleagues’ knowledge of Galen by using a powerful new tool: the printing press.  

Speculum Galeni, printed in Lyon in 1512, begins with Champier’s own biography of Galen and a list of Galenic works.  It continues with Champier’s careful compilation of Latin translations of key works that were (at that time) attributed to Galen, to form a complete Treatise of Medicine.  Included in the compilation is “De oculis,” a treatise on the eyes, the first page of which appears in the photo above. According to later historians, “De oculis” may not have been Galen’s at all – it is only known today from this Latin translation, and no Greek original has ever been found.  Nonetheless, its inclusion in Champier’s compilation makes it one of the first printed works on the subject of ophthalmology. Photo of cover of our copy of Champier's book

Our copy of Speculum Galeni is bound together with another work of Champier called Practica nova in medicina which was probably printed several years earlier, around 1509. The beautiful binding was also created around the same time; it is stamped pigskin over wooden boards with metal clasp closures, and the whole volume is in beautiful condition.  We know from the stamps and inscriptions in the book that it once belonged to the Strahov Monastery Library in Prague.

The book came to the PI Nixon Medical Historical Library as part of the Andrew A Sandor Ophthalmology collection, a group of some 400 rare and historical books that the library acquired in 1988. We invite you to come and see this historical treasure, along with many other treasures on the history of ophthalmology such as Georg Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia (1583) and Samuel Thomas Sommering’s Abbildungen des menschlichen Auges (1801).

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library Reading Room is located on the fifth floor of the Briscoe Library and is open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. In order to view books in the collection, it is best to schedule an appointment prior to visiting by calling 567-2470.

– Luke Rosenberger, Director of Library Technology & Historical Collections

A cure for what ails you

Photograph of a pharmacy case from 1910 holding medicine vials

This is a 1910 pharmaceutical case produced by The Abbott Alkaloidal Company in Chicago. The folding case has loops to hold 12 small vials — two brown glass vials with rubber caps and 10 clear glass vials with cork stoppers. The vials contain “dosimetric granules,” an early form of pills created by Dr. Wallace C. Abbott, physician and pharmacy owner (History timeline, 2010).

(Note: these particular vials are not necessarily original to the kit.) Description of vials from left to right:

(1) Typho Bacterin Mulford, First immunizing dose containing 500 million killed typhoid bacilli, Lab. No. 26521A;

(2) Typho Bacterin Mulford, Second immunizing dose containing 1000 million killed typhoid bacilli, Lab. No. 29299A;Photograph of pharmacy vials from 1910

(3) label missing, granule residue;

(4) atropine sulfate, Gr. 1-500, (32) Gm. .000125, full of granules;

(5) Anticonstipation, (233) Waugh, Alkaloidal Formula;

(6) empty;

(7) Aloin, Gr. 1.12., (16) Gm. .005. [used as a laxative]

(8) Pilecarpine, Gr. 1-10, Gm. .01;

(9) Colchicine, Gr. 1-134, Gm. .0005.;  [used to treat gout]

(10) Quinine Arsenate, Gr. 1-67., (184) Gm. .001.;

(11) Morphine Sulfate, Gr. 1-12., (152) Gm. .005.;

(12) Anodyne (Waugh), (231) For Infants. [generic term for pain killer]

Reference

History timeline. (2010). Abbott Labs: Global health care & medical research. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from http://www.abbott.com/global/url/content/en_US/10.30:30/general_content/General_Content_00069.htm

(At UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections, we have initiated a project to identify items in a collection of medical artifacts.  If you have further information about the items highlighted, please comment.)

Plagiarist from the Past

William Cowper is infamous for being one of the biggest medical plagiarists of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In 1698 Cowper published the book The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, becoming famous above and beyond the imaginable. Even though the attention was negative, any fame at all is good, right?

A short 13 years earlier, Govard Bidloo published his book Anatomia Humani Corporis using 105 beautiful plates drawn by Gerard de Lairesse and engraved by Abraham Blooteling. When Bidloo’s book did not create much attention or sales, he decided to sell 300 copies of his engravings to Cowper’s publishers. Cowper’s publishers asked him if he would translate Bidloo’s text from Dutch to English, while using the same information and engravings but with “…many of them showing a great deal of original research and fresh new insights.” When the book was published, Cowper added nine new engravings because “…he believed Bidloo’s work failed to properly express or cover relevant information,” while replacing Bidloo’s name and original title with his own. Cowper did not credit Bidloo on the title pages, but rather strategically placed Bidloo’s name in his introduction. Even though Cowper clearly plagiarized Bidloo’s work, plagiarism laws were not as strict as they are now. Many people plagiarized others’ work without giving credit, but Cowper’s had been significant because it clearly undermined Bidloo’s work and criticized the original author. Before the publishing of his disputed book, Cowper was elected in 1696 into the Royal Society as one of the first surgeons in the reputable group. Bidloo petitioned the Royal Society to repeal Cowper’s membership because of his act of plagiarism, but since Cowper legally purchased the plates from the publisher, there were no retributions.

Cowper was a credible anatomist despite his critics, performing research on significant medical topics and finding the bulbourethral glands. He also mentored and housed the young surgeon William Cheselden. Mark A. Sanders states: “Cheselden became the most skilled English surgeon of the first half of the 18th century,” giving Cowper some credibility in his medical abilities.

The Anatomy of Humane Bodies is located on the 5th floor of the Dolph Briscoe Library in the P.I. Nixon Library, along with Govard Bidloo’s Anatomia Humani Corporis. Come compare the two texts for yourself and see plagiarism of the 18th century at its finest. Contact Mellisa DeThorne at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or call 210-567-2470 if you have any questions about this blog, or would like to view the special collections.

Forever Historic,

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern

Photographs and Information Courtesy of:

National Library of Medicine, Historical Anatomies on the Web: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/cowper_bio.html

University of Windsor, Leddy Library: http://web4.uwindsor.ca/units/leddy/leddy.nsf/RBSCFeature1!OpenForm

William Cowper and His Decorated Copperplate Initials by Mark A. Sanders

The Other Bell

Engraving from Principals of Surgery
The other Bell is John Bell, who was born on the 12th of May 1762, to humble beginnings.  He was the second of four boys, his father, Rev. William Bell, was a man of considerable courage, and John’s mother was well educated and quite a talented artist.  And so we fast forward to 1779.

It was in 1779 at the young age  of seventeen that John apprenticed to Alexander Wood, the leading surgeon  in the Edinburgh Royal infirmary, who was not only a skilled surgeon, but had a good reputation for being loved by all who knew him.  He left a mark on young Bell, so much so that John Bell dedicated two of his books to Wood.

John studied at the University of Edinburgh under great teachers such as William Cullen and Joseph Black.  After his graduation, John traveled to Russia with a large group of Scottish doctors who contributed greatly to Russian medicine–men like Sir James Wylie, who became Physician General to Czar Alexander I, and Sir William Burnett, who became the first Medical Director of the Royal Navy.

John returned to the University of Edinburgh, his mind set on changing the way Anatomy was taught at the University.   You see, the Chair of Anatomy, although a fine professor, was not a practicing surgeon like John.  Knowing this, John moved swiftly to change the way anatomy was taught,  and the outcome was his own school of anatomy in 1790. Bell taught for many years, and some say that the subject of surgical anatomy was given birth by Bell.  He, along with Pierre-Joseph Desault and John Hunter, is also considered a co-founder of the modern surgery of the vascular system.  It’s interesting to note that John was a successful teacher and his students admired his teaching style.  Later, John was passed up for a prestigious professorship,  and the University suffered as a result.  A quote by Charles Darwin best sums up the man that received the appointment that John so richly deserved.  “Dr. Monro made his lectures on human anatomy as dull as he was himself.” Unfortunately,  John Bell had many enemies due to outspokenness about the unnecessary pain and suffering inflicted by incompetent surgeons practicing in Scotland.  Dr. James Gregory, Professor of Medicine at the University, launched a horrendous campaign against John, resulting from very acrimonious dispute over the right of the junior members of the College of Surgeons of Edinburg to perform operations in the Royal Infirmary.   He went so far as to hand out pamphlets warning students against attending Bell’s lectures. Gregory also posted a sign on the Gates of the University and at the entrance to the Infirmary stating “Any Man, if himself or his family were sick, should as soon think of calling in a mad dog as Mr. John Bell.”  Maybe it was academic jealousy.  We will never know, but I’d like to think that  John was a great professor, admired by his students, and maybe hated by his colleagues.

Bell, in his fifties, moved to Italy for his health.  He died in Rome on April 15, 1820.

The other Bell may not have the same fame as his younger brother, Charles, but he will be remembered as a teacher, a writer of notable medical texts, and for his illustrations, which  speak volumes of his talent as an artist.  He was one of the few medical men to illustrate his own work. This writer is intrigued by the other Bell, and I hope my readers are too.

I urge the Health Science Center community and beyond to see Bell’s work.  The Nixon Medical Historical library recently acquired a first edition, three volume set of Bell’s Principles of Surgery.  Come see the beautiful leather and marbled cover and open it to discover a world of illustrations that will leave their mark on the reader.

To view any of our old and rare treasures call Mellisa DeThorne at 210-567-2470 or email dethorne@uthscsa.edu.  Any questions about this post should be sent to dethorne@uthscsa.edu or call 210-567-2470.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read our little blog.

 

Keeper of all things old and precious,

 

Mellisa D.

 

The Compassionate Surgeon: A Tribute to Sir Charles Bell

Engraving of Leg Amputation- Photo Courtesy of Belldigital.lib.uiowa.edu

Sir Charles Bell was Scottish and grew up in Edinburgh during the 18th century. He was a part of the famous Bell surgeons of Scotland. His older brother  John Bell was a surgeon and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of the city of Edinburgh. John is best known for founding the subject of Surgical Anatomy. Charles attended lectures that his brother John gave at the University and apprenticed under him, influencing Charles’  love for surgical anatomy. John and Charles were both known for their compassion towards their patients. Charles struggled with the unsavory aspects of dissection of animals and humans. He also vehemently opposed animal experimentation because he despised inflicting pain on his patients. Charles stated in the preface of his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery: “In performing the operations of Surgery, this neglect of yourself is very necessary. Why simplicity should be so rare a virtue in Operations, is very remarkable; since it requires but this one rule- think only of your patient.”  Charles volunteered at the Battle of Waterloo, which took place in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and put an end to Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule as Emperor of the French. The battle left 40,000 men dead or wounded, and volunteers were needed to help these fallen soldiers. Charles wrote to a friend of the battle:

“It is impossible to convey to you the picture of human misery continually before my eyes. What was heart-rending in the day, was intolerable at night…while I amputated one man’s thigh, there lay at one time thirteen, all beseeching to be taken next…”

Charles was a student while volunteering at Waterloo, allowing him to grasp the realities of his field outside of a classroom. He made advances in the science of physiology, with the study of nerves and description of  muscle sense or prorioceptive sensation. Bell’s palsy, which is facial paralysis due to nerve dysfunction, was named after Charles’ research findings. Charles became an important figure in London, where he lived for 40 years, and was knighted and appointed to the Chair of Anatomy of the Royal College of Surgeons. Charles was celebrated by many– For example, he went to Paris to visit the surgeon Philibert Joseph Roux, who announced to his class that they were dismissed because “You have seen Charles Bell, that is enough.” Charles was not immune to his importance among the surgical community and continued to write articles while compiling information from research.

One of his most celebrated works is the Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism, and Lithotomy that colorfully displays images of various operations. These detailed and beautiful images were intended to be a teaching tool for medical students, but they were also admired by the art community. Charles drew the pictures himself with the engravings done by Thomas Landseer. His compassion shines through with elegant images of hands carefully touching an amputated leg and shoulder.  He also gives his opinion on what responsibilities surgeons have, stating in the preface: “Nor is the public aware of the temptations which men of our profession withstand. Credit for great abilities, gratitude for services performed, and high emoluments are ready to be bestowed for a little deception, and that obliquity of conduct, which does not amount to actual crime.”

Successful and named the first Professor of Anatomy and Surgery of the College of Surgeons in London in 1824, Charles grew tired of the University and decided to move to private practice. Even though Charles was not teaching, he still worked hard on his studies of physiology and was knighted by King William IV in 1831. Charles was always a man of humbleness and at the age of 62 moved back to Edinburgh to be the Professor of Surgery, stating that “London was a good place to live in but not to die in.” He died in 1842 while traveling to London for unknown reasons.  Charles Bell teaches us the importance of humanity when dealing with patients and how surgeons can make a difference in everyone’s lives. He is the epitome of a person with many talents and passions that shares experiences with the world through his studies and artwork.

The P.I. Nixon Library owns a copy of Bell’s illustrious work Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism, and Lithotomy, and I encourage you to view it for yourself. A man as interesting and influential as Sir Charles Bell should not be forgotten, so please come by to relive his masterpiece.

If you have any questions or concerns about this blog, please contact Mellisa DeThorne at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2470.

Forever Historic,

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern

 

Information and quotations courtesy of:

Great Ideas in the History of Surgery By Leo M. Zimmerman, Ilza Veith

Sir Charles Bell: The artist who went to the roots! By Rehan Kazi

Albrecht Dürer’s Human Proportions

Albrecht Dürer, one of the greatest known artists of the Northern European Renaissance, is best known for his beautiful engravings and religious paintings.  Dürer was ahead of his time with his landscape paintings, which were the first of their kind, and the unique self-portraits that he started when he was only 13-years-old. He was born in Nuremburg in 1471 to a goldsmith who taught him a lot about the art of gold, but his father knew that Albrecht would not stay in the family business for long. At the age of fifteen, Dürer apprenticed with Michael Wolgemut, who lived in Nuremburg and specialized in woodcutting. Not only did Dürer and Wolgemut focus on woodcutting, which they financially benefitted from, but they also painted. Dürer was also one of the first great Renaissance artists to study anatomy, writing the book De Symmetria Partium in Rectics Formis Humanorum Corporum, a part of his larger work  Four Books on Human Proportions.

Dürer’s Four Books on Human Proportions was influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, Marcus Vitruvius and other significant thinkers.  Dürer’s encounter with Leonardo marks the turning point in his career as a theorist of human proportion.  Even though he was influenced by these thinkers, Dürer’s portrayal of humans of all different shapes and sizes was entirely unique. He displayed women and men of different shapes and sizes in order to show their unique proportions and beauty of form. Before Dürer’s drawings, there was only one absolute form of beauty based on ideal proportions that were determined by Vitruvius.  Dürer thought that there were “many forms of relative beauty…conditioned by the diversity of breeding, vocation and natural disposition.” He aimed to provide a wide range of different body types in order to help him produce the “widest limits of human nature and…all possible kinds of figures: figures “noble” or “rustic,” canine or fox-like, timid or cheerful.” Not only was Dürer aiming to show beauty among many different humans, he also wanted to innovate the science of human proportion.

Dürer is famous for his paintings and woodcuttings, but many do not know about his love for science. There are four books included in his proportion findings, and Dürer probably would have worked more on his theories if he wasn’t commissioned by powerful members of society to create paintings. His book on human proportions was not published until six months after his death.

The P.I. Nixon Library houses a 1st Edition copy in Latin of De Symmetria Partium in Rectics Formis Humanorum Corporum. This book shows the original woodcuts issued by Dürer and displays many different perspectives of the human body. Please stop by to see this legendary geometrical handiwork and learn some information from the past. The Nixon Library also has a facsimile of Les Quartre Lives d’ Albert Durer: Peinctre & Geometrien Tres Excellent, de la Proportion des Parties & Poutraicts des Corps Humains, the French translation of the Four Books on Human Proportions published in 1613.

Here are some wise words from the man himself: “I hold that the perfection of form and beauty is contained in the sum of all men.”

If you have any questions about this post or want to see this work for yourself, contact Mellisa DeThorne at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or 210 567-2470.

Forever Historic,

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern

Information courtesy of Erwin Panofsky’s The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer.

Images courtesy of

http://arlisdmv.org/2010/10/the-body-inside-and-out/

http://www.themorgan.org/collections/collections.asp?id=577 

http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=481382 

http://berkdoganolgluva312.wordpress.com (link is broken)

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery of the Yellow Syringes

Photograph of yellow syringes

 

Yellow syringes?” you say to yourself. “Syringes are usually, well, pretty colorless.” That’s exactly the thought I had. My follow-up thought was that it wouldn’t be hard to find out about yellow syringes, since they certainly seemed to be unique. As it turns out, my first thought was right on, while my second thought was slightly off. After exhaustive searching thorough the Becton Dickinson catalog (see that nifty BD tell-tale symbol?), where I was sure the yellow syringes would be the stand-out ones, I turned to the experts: the archivists at Becton Dickinson. The excellent work by Mae Savas revealed that these syringes had changed color from clear to yellow during the sterilization process. Because of this quirk, the syringes never actually made it to market. Wait, never made it to market? Then how did they end up in the UT Health Science Center Medical Artifacts collection…and so the mystery continues. Drop us a line if you have a lead.

Amy Nurnberger, Public Services Intern

Public Health in Early San Antonio

1852 was the year that the State of Texas empowered San Antonio and other incorporated cities to enforce ordinances necessary for the protection of its citizens.  It was during this time San Antonio employed a city physician.

Dr. Henry P. Howard was the first City physician serving in 1854 and again in 1858. He was born in Washington D.C. in 1829.  He came to San Antonio in 1846 at the young age of 17 and took part in the battle of Buena Vista and was singled out for his outstanding bravery on the battlefield.   At the end of the war he returned to Washington where he enrolled as a medical student at Columbia University in 1853.  Upon graduating in 1853 he returned to San Antonio and became a Charter member of the Bexar County Medical Society which was organized on September 22 of that year.  It was 1854 when he served as the first City Physician of San Antonio; in this capacity one of his first official duties was to pronounce dead eleven outlaws who were executed by hanging by Asa Mitchell who was a member of the San Antonio Vigilance Committee.

Dr. Rudolph Menger was appointed City Physician in 1879 and he served in this capacity until 1883. Dr. Menger was born in San Antonio in 1851.  He attended the old German English School located on South South Alamo street.  Dr. Menger worked as a clerk in Kalteyers Drug Store from 1866 to 1869.  In 1869 Dr. Menger went to Germany and studied medicine at the University of Leipsic.  He graduated in 1874. He returned to the United States and served as a physician in the United State Army until he became the city physician in 1879.After his run as City Physician, Dr. Menger practiced Medicine in San Antonio for several years.  He is remembered for his nature observations and writings on natural history.  Dr. Menger donated a unique scrapbook of nature’s unique objects to the Bexar County Medical Society in the early 1900s.  This precious scrapbook now lives on the shelves at the P. I . Nixon library and is in the process of being digitized so anyone with internet access can enjoy its distinctive micro pictographs,

San Antonio’s first Board of Health was organized in 1883.  The Board of Health was composed of the Mayor of San Antonio, the City Physician, and three other physicians appointed by the Mayor and approved by the council.  The members of the first board were:  J. H. French, Mayor; Dr. Julius Braunnagel, City Physician; Drs. F. Herff, T. J. Tyner and Amos Graves.  The Board of Health was responsible for sanitary conditions, hospitals, and reporting and keeping of vital statistics.  Reports of communicable diseases were reported to the Board of Health by physicians, school personnel and homeowners.  With the knowledge available at the time health officials worked bravely to isolate people with communicable diseases.  Smallpox and Cholera were diseases that were problematic during this time.

Dr. Julius Braunnaugel was City Physician from 1883 to 1892.  He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at St. Louis, Missouri in 1883.  He practiced medicine for forty years in San Antonio.

Later, from 1897 to 1903 Dr. Berthold E. Hadra served as City Physician.  Dr. Hadra was a one of a group of German physicians to come to Texas after the Civil War.  He was educated in Europe and served in the German Army before moving to San Antonio in 1870.  He was considered one of the notable surgeons in Texas and later worked as professor of surgery at the Medical School in Galveston.  He was President of the Texas State Medical Association for the years 1899-1900.

The faces of Public Health officials have changed over the years.  As we continue to move forward and face new challenges let’s not forget our past and the brave men and women who work tirelessly to keep us safe.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact Mellisa DeThorne @ 210 567-2470 or dethorne@uthscsa.edu

Keeper of all things old and precious, Mellisa D.

The Fabric of Our Lives

Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish anatomist and physician of the 16th century, is considered by many to be the founder of human anatomy.  He is known for refuting ideas that Greeks and many other anatomists believed about the human body. He contributed to knowledge about the ocular anatomy even though the tools used in the 16th century were not small enough to dissect minute parts. Vesalius refuted the ideas of Claudius Galen, a prominent Greek medical researcher who only dissected animals and drew conclusions for human anatomy. Galen was not allowed to use human cadavers because dissection of the human body was forbidden, so he was forced to use the carcasses of monkeys and pigs. Vesalius, aware of these animal dissections, decided that all of Galen’s work did not apply to the human anatomy.

Vesalius graduated from the University of Padua in 1537 when he was 23 years old and shortly after became the Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at his alma mater. He gained access to human cadavers and started dissecting in the classroom with his students. Vesalius provided students and his colleagues with vital information about the human body and later wrote De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (On the Fabric of the Human Body in Seven Books.)

De Fabrica shows different muscles and bones of the body by first showing the skeleton and then the peelings of muscles. The muscles are shown as if they are folded away from the body to achieve a clearer understanding of the shapes of muscles. Vesalius labels each part of the body with a letter that corresponds to a table, which gives the detailed name of the part shown. Vesalius had the help of Stephen van Calcar, who was the artist of these bodies. “The bodies are posed in front of what appears to be the countryside around Padua: the first six frontal views [of the bodies] and six back views can be placed together to form a continuous landscape.” These landscapes contrast with the lifelessness of the figures, even though their poses are rather dramatic and realistic.

Not only are the figures and landscapes an intriguing sight, the smaller drawings of female organs, veins, nerves, and other crucial elements to the body are meticulously drawn. Vesalius arrived at an interesting conclusion, which today seems like common knowledge. He determined that the brain was the center of the nervous system, not the heart, as previously believed.  Vesalius gained much respect and fame for his findings on human anatomy. With his success came plagiarism of his work by fellow anatomists, who poorly copied his drawings and findings.

After the success of his book among the public and his colleagues, Vesalius was appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, as a court physician to the emperor. His lucrative position came with many enemies in the science and religious communities, pushing Vesalius to give up his anatomical studies. This caused Vesalius to burn all of his work, including various unpublished books.

Vesalius was a revolutionary thinker, who influenced modern medicine and proved former scientists wrong. Vesalius was a part of the Renaissance thinkers and remains well-regarded as one of the fathers of modern medicine and thought.

The P.I. Nixon Library owns a first edition copy (1543) of De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem. “Vesalius personally supervised the final stages of printing, resulting in a masterpiece with not a single typographical error.” This raises the question: did Vesalius touch this book with his own hands? A man who created a historical and scientific masterpiece that is still remembered to this day, and it lies on the 5th floor of the Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Library. To me, that is truly amazing.

Please drop by to see this beautiful piece of history. The Nixon Library is open Monday – Friday 8AM-5PM.  We prefer appointments, but walk-ins are always welcome. Any questions about this post, please send to Mellisa DeThorne at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2470.

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern

An Anatomical Masterpiece

Bernhard Siegfried Albinus was a remarkable perfectionist, remembered for his beautiful anatomical work in Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body. Albinus lived 1697–1770, originally from Frankfurt, Germany and became a professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Leyden in 1721.

Albinus became fascinated with the idea of “homo perfectus,” which shows the body “subject to physical and mathematical laws both anatomically and physiologically.” He worked 22 years at finding this “homo perfectus,” and was influenced by one of the most famous physicians of all time, Hermann Boerhaave (1668–1738). Boerhaave, who was his mentor and friend, taught Albinus about the mechanical function of the body using mathematical laws to explain these theories. Albinus took on similar attitudes while putting together his anatomical book Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body. He insisted on being completely accurate in depicting the human body, comparing it to an architect drawing a building with all the measurements drawn to scale. He stated in the book’s preface, “And not a single picture has been drawn free hand. All have been measured, brought down to scale, either from an indeterminate distance, as the architects do…” A new technique of anatomical illustration emerged from this desire for accuracy. Albinus used a large wooden frame that had nets and grids attached with the body in the center, making his proportions and perspectives more precise.

Although Albinus was the mastermind of this anatomical operation, he needed the help of artist Jan Wandelaar (1690-1759) to make his visions a reality. Wandelaar became a close companion to Albinus when he moved in with Albinus and lived with him for 20 years, allowing him to be completely familiar with Albinus’ visions. Albinus strived for accuracy and perfection, causing Wandelaar’s artistic talent and opinions to be overlooked. Although the drawings needed to be under the direction of Albinus, Wandelaar had free range to draw the landscapes, architecture and lush backgrounds. One of the best known drawings displays a rhinoceros grazing in the background, which was the “first example of its species imported into Europe.”

This book displays human bodies with fluid motions showing the beauty of each pose and drawing. In order to make this a reality for Wandelaar, behind the specimen being drawn would be a man of equal height and stature standing in the same position. Albinus also moved away from the format of previous anatomy books, which first showed the outside of the body while working their way deeper to the skeleton. He aimed at creating the structure first, which was the skeleton, then working to the muscles.

The P.I. Nixon Library owns a first edition English translation of this work that contains 40 copper plates of re-engraved copies of the originals done by Jan Wandelaar. It took Albinus eight years and 24,000 Dutch florins of his own money to create this illustrious book. In addition to the twelve plates representing the human body, there are sixteen additional engraved plates highlighting special muscles and parts of muscles.

Please drop by to see this magnificent treasure. The Nixon Library is open Monday – Friday 8 AM-5 PM.  We prefer appointments, but walk-ins are always welcome. Any questions about this post, please send to Mellisa DeThorne at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2470.

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern