De Re Anatomica Libri XV. Realdo COLOMBO.

The Discovery of Pulmonary Circulation

De Re Anatomica Libri XV.

Woodcut title-page, woodcut initials, & printer’s woodcut device on recto of final leaf. 4 p.l., 169 (i.e., 269), [3] pp. Small folio, 17th-cent. vellum over boards (foot of spine a little worn). Venice: V. Valgrisi for N. Bevilacqua, 1559.

First edition, issue with the dedication to Pope Pius IV, of Colombo’s only work, containing his discovery of pulmonary circulation. “This historic breakthrough in his demonstration of the lesser circulation through the lungs secures his place of importance in the line culminating in Harvey’s demonstration of the circulation of the blood sixty-nine years later.”–Heirs of Hippocrates 304.

Colombo was a one-time colleague and friend of Vesalius, whose chair of anatomy and surgery Colombo took over in 1544. He was critical of Vesalius’s illustrations and text of the Fabrica and planned to produce an illustrated anatomy with figures by Michelangelo, but this project was never realized although the two had collaborated on anatomical investigations. Colombo was the first anatomist to criticize Vesalius for errors of anatomy. “In 1559 Colombo published his own unillustrated text, De re anatomica, consisting of fifteen books…Colombo seems to have eschewed the deep Galenic learning shared by other leading contemporary anatomists, but to judge from the De re anatomica he more than compensated for this by his rich experience in dissection, vivisection, autopsy, and the practice of surgery. Quite naturally the Fabrica provided the main framework for his studies, and he made numerous improvements in Vesalius’s descriptions besides reporting a number of new discoveries of his own. The many pathological and anomalous observations he described likewise reflect his wide experience and attention to detail. He also had a strong interest in physiology and seems to have been unsurpassed among his contemporaries in his skill at vivisection…

“Colombo realized that his discovery [of pulmonary circulation] had eliminated the need for the Galenic septal pores, but is was also clear to him that the pulmonary circuit is an important phenomenon in its own right. He particularly emphasized that it is in the lungs, rather than in the heart, that the venous blood is mixed with air and converted to arterial blood. The arterial blood was thought to preserve the life of all parts of the body, and the unique ability to generate this important substance had been one of the traditional attributes of the heart. By transferring this power to the lungs, Colombo was quite consciously diminishing the status of the heart, whose main task was now to distribute the arterial blood rather than to generate it.”–D.S.B., III, pp. 355-56.

The fine woodcut title-page, here in a strong and rich impression, depicts an anatomy lesson being conducted by Colombo. It has been attributed variously to Titian, Giuseppe Porta, and Salviati. See Mortimer 129 on the different interpretations of this block.

Minor pale dampstain in fore-edge margin of 5 leaves and a pale dampstain in gutter of last 30 leaves, otherwise a fine and clean copy. Early inscription of M. de Campa and shelfmarks at foot of title-page and old library stamp on verso.

❧ Garrison-Morton 378.1.

Price: $22,500.00

Item ID: 3026

See all items in Anatomy, Medicine
See all items by