Renaissance military surgery, complete with the two 'fugitive sheets'

Gersdorff, Hans von (ca. 1455-1529).

Feldtbuch der Wund Artzney, sampt vilen Instrumenten der Chirurgey dem Albucasi contrafayt. Chiromantia Jo. Indagine. Das ist, die Kunst der Handtbesehung. Natürliche Astrologey, nach warem Lauff der Sonnen. Physiognomey, uss des Menschens Anblick und Glyderen, sein angeborne Neygung zu erlernen... Wie auch, und wenn sich der Artzney zugebrauchen. Strasbourg, Johann Schotten, 3 December 1540.

Gersdorff, Hans von (ca. 1455-1529) Feldtbuch der Wund Artzney, sampt vilen Instrumenten der Chirurgey dem Albucasi contrafayt. Chiromantia Jo. Indagine. Das ist, die Kunst der Handtbesehung. Natürliche Astrologey, nach warem Lauff der Sonnen. Physiognomey, uss des Menschens Anblick und Glyderen, sein angeborne Neygung zu erlernen... Wie auch, und wenn sich der Artzney zugebrauchen. Johann Schotten, 3 December 1540.

Three parts in one volume, folio (289x190 mm). Collation: [π]4, a-z4, Aa-Bb4, Cc6; A4, B6; aa4, B-R4, S6. [8], CCX [i.e. CCXII]; XX; CXLV, [3] pages (with errors in numbering). Complete with fol. S6 blank. Gothic type. Woodcut printer's device on fol. S5r. Twenty-four full-page woodcut anatomical and medical illustrations (fols. d4v, f2v, g3v, g4r, h1v, i4r, k4v, l1r, l2v, l3r, l4v, m1v, m2r, m3v, m4r, n2r, n4v, o1r, o4v, q3v, u1r, x2v, x4v, A1r), several illustrations of surgical instruments (fols. A2r-B6v); 36 chiromancy hands (fols. aa2r-H2v), eleven double physiognomic portraits (fols. H3r-K2r); a portrait of Johannes ab Indagine by Hans Baldung Grien dated 1540 (fol. M3v), thirty-three astrological diagrams and allegorical chariots (fols. N1r-R3r). The copy is complete with the two fugitive sheets, featuring two extremely rare folding woodcut plates (382x265 mm) representing an anatomical figure showing internal organs – the 'viscera-manikin' – and a skeleton (see below). Woodcut animated initials. Contemporary blind-tooled half-pigskin, over wooden boards. Spine with three raised bands, inked title on upper cover, traces of clasps. A good copy. Repairs to the margins of the title-page and the final leaves, tiny wormholes on a few leaves, some marginal stains, tear repaired to one of the folding plates, contemporary annotations on the verso of the last leaf and rear pastedown.

First edition of this collection of texts, which includes – along with the German translations of the famous treatise on surgical instruments by Albucasis (Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn Abbas al-Zahrawi, 936-1013) and the Chiromantia by Johannes ab Indagine (d. 1537) – Gersdorff's Feldtbuch, the first book to illustrate actual surgical procedures and one of the very first illustrated books on surgery to ever be published. It is arguably the most advanced surgical manual of its time, containing original information on amputations, early anaesthesia, and the treatment of gunshot wounds, all accompanied by the very best surgical illustrations of the period.

The Feldtbuch is the third German-language book on surgery after Heinrich von Pfolsprundt's Buch der Bündth-Ertznei (1460) and Hieronymus Brunschwig's Buch der Cirurgia (1497); it also predates the first French publication in the genre, that of Ambroise Paré, which appeared in 1545. Gersdorff's work was first printed in Strasbourg by Johann Schott in 1517 and was an immediate success. It was reprinted in Strasbourg in 1526, 1528, 1530, and 1535 (all editions in quarto) and was also republished in Augsburg by Heinrich Steiner in 1530 and 1532 (both folio editions).

“The practical nature of Gersdorff's book and its fine illustrations caused it to become very popular and it was frequently referred to, widely quoted and freely plagiarized. The work went through at least twelve editions between the time of its first publication in 1517 and the early seventeenth century. The book also appeared in several Latin and Dutch editions” (Heirs of Hippocrates, 149).

Little is known about the early life of Hans von Gersdorff, one of the most noted German surgeons of the late fifteenth and early sixteen centuries. It is not known how or where he received his education, but it is evident that he was especially well-known for limb amputations, of which he is reputed to have performed at least two hundred. “Gersdorff was a military surgeon who had gained wide experience during the course of some forty years of campaigning and was an expert in the care and treatment of battlefield injuries. His work is divided into four books which treat of anatomy, surgery, leprosy, and glossaries of anatomical terms, diseases, and medications [...] Gersdorff emphasized a well-founded knowledge of anatomy because the surgeon was frequently called upon to deal with extensive bodily trauma. He derived his anatomy primarily from the Arabic authors and works of Guy de Chauliac” (History of Medical Illustration, London 1970, p. 142).

The edition is rightly famous for its numerous woodcut illustrations, many of which are full-page, depicting such operations as trepanations and amputations; surgical techniques such as trephining, bone setting, and traction bandages; and numerous surgical instruments. Counting among these illustrations are the first published depictions of an amputation and brain dissections. Gersdorff invented several surgical instruments, including a tripod screw-elevator for raising depressed skull fragments and machines for reducing fractures and dislocations. The woodcuts are partly attributed to the German artist Johann Ulrich Wächtlin or Wechtlin, who was also known as 'The Master of the Crossed Pilgrim's Staves'.

Of particular interest are the two folding plates, also attributed to Wechtlin, which are not usually found in copies of the present edition. The sheets were published by Johann Schott in Strasbourg in 1517 and included in the first edition of Gersdorff's treatise (likewise published by Schott that same year) as individual fugitive sheets to be hung on walls. They were subsequently adapted to volume form, but never completely lost their original function; presumably many owners of the book preferred to be able to use them separately as opposed to having them sewn in, hence why many copies are now missing the plates.

Numerous variants of the sheets are known; the woodcut never changes but the letter-press component is altered, i.e., the caption titles and the verses below which were reset, sometimes bearing Schott's subscription and device, as in the original version of 1517. The woodcuts are also occasionally surrounded by a typographical frame. Variably titled 'Warhafftige Anatomey der ynneren Glyderen des Menschens' and 'Warhafftige Anatomey der Beyn Glyderen des Menschens', or 'Anatomia corporis Humani 1517” and “Anatomia aller Beynglyder des menschen', the two plates are also found in the 1518 Strasbourg edition of Laurentius Phryesen von Colmar's Spiegel der Artzney, as well as the 1528 and 1530 editions of the Feldtbuch. As these two latter editions were issued in quarto format, the folio sheets found in some copies are lacking the verses underneath the image as they were removed to better fit the smaller size.

The 'viscera-manikin' plate shows part of a male figure, from the head to below the knees, with a wide piece of cloth strewn over the thighs, and the thoracic and abdominal cavities dissected; there are also seven accessory figures, the brain, cranial cavity, and tongue, with engraved German designations on the plate. At the top, above the head, is engraved the inscription 'Anatomia corporis Humani 1517'. Below the plate are typeset verses in German and the statement 'Gedruckt zu Strassburg durch Joannem Schott'.

The second fugitive sheet shows a skeleton in frontal view with the head slightly turned to the right and arms hanging down; on both sides and wherever there is space, Latin names of bones have been engraved upon the plate. At the top, above the plate, is printed in type 'Anatomia aller Beynglyder des menschen'. Below the plate, printed in type, are twenty-four verses of moral reflections upon death: “Der Todt binn ich grausam ungstalt, Vnd doch des lebens vfenthalt [...] Eer Gott, dein acht, die welt vernicht. Dein seel ewig, der leib verblicht”.

It is extraordinary that the present addition includes both plates. “Fugitive sheets (fliegende Blätter) with pre-Vesalian anatomy, representing whole figures with the names of the parts or explanatory texts, were published either on a single broadside or on two sheets, each with printing on one side only. In this period several appeared. They were generally intended to disseminate popular information, or to give instruction to barbers and surgeons, and were probably to be hung up in their anterooms. [...] They were, in the nature of things, predestined to be scattered and lost, and, on this account, are now all of them exceedingly rare” (Choulant-Franck, p. 156).

VD16 G-1625; Cushing G-200; Durling 2059 (1517 ed.); Garrison-Morton 5560 (1517 edition); Wellcome 2761; Choulant-Franck, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration, Chicago 1920, p. 156; A. Carlino, Paper Bodies: A Catalogue of Anatomical Fugitive Sheets 1538-1687, London 1999, pp. 90-91; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 98.

$ 110.000
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