Life-sized Books for Life's Anatomy

by thelittleredreader on October 29, 2017 - 9:41pm


            In the Early Modern period, medical knowledge evolved and many books were published to educate surgeons, physicians, apothecaries and others. Life-sized books with big illustrations became an interesting and accurately representative way to understand the parts of the body. The rare book Demonstratio Vteri Praegnantis Mvlieris Cvm Foetv Ad Partvm Matvri in Tabvlis Sex Ad Natvrae Magnitvdinem Post Dissectiones Depictis Et, Ea MethodoDispositis, Vt Hvivs Statvs Gravidi Amplam Ob Ocvlos Ideam Collocent , Cum Explicatione by Caroli Niolai Jenty is a uniquely over-sized book specializing in demonstrating the development of the fetus in the uterus through the different stages of pregnancy. The over-sized book pages are put inside an old and fragile book cover with a roped book binding. The book offers 6 life-size copper-etched images of a fetus in a woman’s body with an adjacent table explaining the body parts present in the photo (in Latin and German). The intricate details in these pictures depict the growing importance of anatomical knowledge in the 18th century.


            As early modern scientists tried to discover new things about the human body, as seen in class, the humoral theory was dismissed by Andreas Vesalius and understanding anatomy became more important. In order to gain this understanding, the use of cadavers became a popular learning method until there was a shortage of bodies and alternative methods had to be used. Creating life-sized books was an ideal way to counter a shortage of bodies because they contained life-sized images of body parts with intricate details. The only down-side to the life-sized books was the size itself. They sometimes became impractical and were only used as display books to teach instead of everyday reference books for surgeons and doctors. However, they provided enough detail to be useful for surgeons to make use of the information during surgeries without having the book physically present. In the case of Jenty’s rare book, the bodies used for the pregnancy photos were of deceased pregnant women and were generally not donated bodies. They belonged to former prostitutes or women who were robbed from their grave. Nevertheless, the bodies contributed to anatomical enlightenment. By cutting open the human body and seeing every detailed part of it, there was no more assuming what the inside looked like, no more assuming how each part was linked together. The humoral theory and it’s vague understanding of the body had ruled medicine long enough and the understanding of anatomy was a ground-breaking discovery that made this book special.


            The increasing importance of understanding human anatomy also impacted the different types of medical professionals of the period: physicians, apothecaries and surgeons. As stated in E.C. Spary’s Health and Medicine in the Enlightenment, at the beginning of the early modern period, each medical professional had different tasks but physicians were deemed more important than the other two because they interacted with patients to diagnose them after examining their symptoms. Therefore, physicians seemed to have a greater understanding of the body and how symptoms affected the body, unlike apothecaries and surgeons whose knowledge was restrained to their field only. However, after the understanding of the human body through anatomy was brought to light, it came to the attention of some people that physicians lacked understanding of the human body. This realization happened when “other sorts of medical practitioners began to lay claim to higher status, appealing to forms of knowledge and skill outside the traditional purview of doctors. Apothecaries reinvented themselves as pharmacists on the basis of their chemical and botanical knowledge, while surgeons presented themselves as anatomical and physiological experts,” (Spray 84). In other words, surgeons’ breakthrough in the medical field and deep understanding of anatomy was due to books like Jenty’s. The intricate details of the images in his book are what lead surgeons to educate themselves further on pregnancy and challenge the knowledge physicians thought they had on the matter. For example, a picture of the inside of a woman’s belly once the baby has reached its biggest size shows the upside position of the baby with the umbilical cord wrapped about it. The different layers of stomach tissue are shown as well. Thus, without books like that, anatomical knowledge wouldn’t have evolved as much.


            In conclusion, the shortage of cadavers for experimentation and the challenge between the different types of medical practitioners is what lead to the increasing importance of understanding human anatomy. Without this enlightenment, Jenty’s book on the fetus would have never existed and the world would’ve been deprived from a gem of knowledge and a beautiful piece of art.  




Works Cited

Brand, Sarah. “A shifting Paradigm: Andreas Vesalius and Anatomy”. Early Modern Medicine, Early Modern Knowledge, 14 oct. 2017, Montreal, Marianopolis.

Spary, E.C.  “Health and Medicine in the Enlightenment”. 345-101-MQ: Early Modern Knowledge. edited by Sarah Brand, Eastman, pp.84, 2017.

Jenty, Caroli Nicolai. Demonstratio Vteri Praegnantis Mvlieris Cvm Foetv Ad Partvm Matvri in Tabvlis Sex Ad Natvrae Magnitvdinem Post Dissectiones Depictis Et, Ea MethodoDispositis, Vt Hvivs Statvs Gravidi Amplam Ob Ocvlos Ideam Collocent , Cum Explicatione,1761.