September 3, 2007

William Hunter's Anatomia Uteri Humani Gravidi, 1774

hunter_uterus_christies.jpg

William Hunter became one of the most famous anatomists and obstetricians in 18th century Europe. Over the courser of 30-odd years, he worked with the artist Jan van Rymsdyk to produce what's considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of medical illustration, Anatomia uteri humani gravidi tabulis illustrata = The anatomy of the human gravid uterus exhibited in figures, which was published in 1774.

At 18 * 25 inches, Anatomia's 34 plates by 17 individual engravers constitute the largest work ever produced by the equally famous printer and typographer John Baskerville, who you may know from such scrolldown font menus as Mac and MS Word.

The reason it took Hunter so long to produce the atlas was the extreme difficulty he faced in procuring cadavers of pregnant women from which to execute the drawings. [So what good is being Europe's most famous obstetrician if you can't get decent pregnant cadavers? Hmm?]

The NIH's National Medical Library has large scans of Hunter's Anatomia. The images are definitely beautiful in that particular meticulously-detailed-18th c.-engravings-of-dissected-pregnant-cadavers way. If you're set on doing an anatomically themed nursery, there's a copy coming up for auction next month at Christie's. It's estimated to sell for $7,000-10,000.

Historical Anatomies on the Web - Hunter, William [nih.gov]
Lot 107 -ANATOMY AS ART: THE DEAN EDELL MEDICAL COLLECTION, Oct. 5, 2007, New York [christies.com via boingboing]

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