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Gessner, Conrad (1516-1565)

Chirurgia. De Chirurgia Scriptores optimi quique veteres et recentiores, plerique in Germania antehac non editi, nunc primum in unum coniuncti volumen... Andreas and Jacob Gessner, March 1555.

€ 8.000
A bio-bibliographical survey on surgery and surgeons, by the Father of Bibliography
Gessner, Conrad (1516-1565). Chirurgia. De Chirurgia Scriptores optimi quique veteres et recentiores, plerique in Germania antehac non editi, nunc primum in unum coniuncti volumen.... Andreas and Jacob Gessner, March 1555.

Folio (321x205 mm). Collation: †6, *4, A-Z6, a-z6, Aa-Yy6, α-β6, γ8. [10], 408 [i.e. 406], [21] of 22 leaves. Lacking the final blank leaf, but complete with blank *4. Roman, italic, and Greek type. Printer's woodcut device on the title-page and fol. Yy6v. 260 woodcut illustrations in the text (some full-page) cut by Jos Murer. Seventeenth-century half-vellum, boards covered with decorated paper. Spine with four raised bands. Title inked on the spine and tail edge, in an early hand. Covers somewhat rubbed and worn. A good copy, title-page slightly stained with a short tear not affecting the text; second leaf remargined, pale waterstain to the upper margin of the final leaves.

Provenance: early ownership inscription ('Ego Gabriel [?]', barely legible) and small old stamp on the title-page.

First edition of this collection of works on surgery selected and edited by Conrad Gessner, who also included his own treatise, De medicinae chirurgicae praestantia et antiquitate.

The book can rightly be considered both a history and a bio-bibliography of surgery and surgeons, one of the first of its kind. It covers 150 authors, including Guido Guidi, Jean Tagault, Jacopo Dondi, Mariano Santo, Angelo Bolognini, Michelangelo Biondo, Bartolomeo Maggi, Alfonso Ferri, Jacques Houllier, and Joachim Lang, to mention just a few.

The woodcut skeletal illustrations were taken from Vesalius, the field surgery scenes from Gersdorff (see no. 98), and the depictions of surgical instruments mainly from Guidi.

Conrad Gessner was a polymath: one of the leading Hellenists of the sixteenth century, he was also a physician, botanist, zoologist, bibliographer, prolific editor, and professor of philosophy. He was a native of Zurich and studied classical languages and theology in Strasbourg, followed in 1533 by studies in medicine undertaken in Bourges, Paris, and Montpellier. In 1537 he was appointed professor of Greek at the Academy in Lausanne. In 1541 he settled in Zurich, where he practiced medicine. In 1546, in addition to his medical activities, he also became professor of physics, natural philosophy, and ethics. In 1565 the plague – which has been identified, based on Gessner's description, as a form of pulmonary bubonic – came to Zurich, and he succumbed to it on 13 December.

Besides the Chirurgia, three other major projects preoccupied Gessner in his life. The first was the Bibliotheca universalis (1545), which earned him the title of the 'father of bibliography'. The second project was the Historia animalium (four volumes between 1551 and 1558), a monumental encyclopaedia of animals. The third was the Historia plantarum (1541), a magnificent herbal, for which Gessner worked to produce a significantly augmented edition up until his early death in 1565 at age 49.

Adams G-520; Durling 960; Garrison-Morton 5562; Waller 1959; Wellcome 1460; L. Pinon, “Conrad Gessner and the Historical Depth of Renaissance Natural History”, G. Pomata - N. S. Siraisi (eds.), Historia: Empricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, MA 2005, pp. 241-268; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 119.