nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dd f25f a3d9 e040 e00a18064a99.001.w (1)

Adam and Eve plate engraved by Geminus after the anonymous woodcuts in Vesalius's Epitome. The New York Public Library Digital Collections Image ID 1157691.

Detail map of London, England, United Kingdom Overview map of London, England, United Kingdom

A: London, England, United Kingdom

Thomas Geminus Issues the First Edition of Vesalius Published in England

10/1545 to 1553
nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dd f25e a3d9 e040 e00a18064a99.001.w

Title page of Geminus's Compendiosa from The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Image ID 1157690.

Belgian engraver, mathematical and surgical instrument maker, Thomas Geminus (Thomas Lambert or Lambrit) published Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio in London. Geminus's Compendiosa was a slightly abridged version of Vesalius's Epitome illustrated with figures from both the Fabrica and the Epitome re-engraved in copperplate by Geminus. Geminus's work introduced Vesalian anatomy to England, filling an important need by providing a summary view of Vesalius's anatomical discoveries more complete than the Epitome, less bulky and expensive than the Fabrica, and illustrated— via the new medium of copperplate engraving— with a clarity of line impossible even for the highly skilled wood engravers employed by Vesalius. The work was dedicated to Henry VIII, who in 1540 had given assent to an Act uniting Barbers and Surgeons into one Company. In the same year another Act authorized the supply of the cadavers of four executed criminals to the Barber and Surgeons Company for dissection. Geminus undoubtedly intended his book to supply needed information to English surgeons in the spirit of the new legislation. However, Vesalius did not authorize publication of the Compendiosa, and he complained about it bitterly in his China-Root Epistle (1546), so that even though Geminus declared Vesalius's authorship in the headline on leaf A1, the Compendiosa has always been considered the first of the many plagiarisms of Vesalius's anatomical works.

Geminus emigrated to England about 1540, where he practiced the arts of engraving, printing and instrument making. It has also been asserted that Geminus practiced as a surgeon until 1555 when he was examined and penalized by the College of Physicians for practicing without a license. Later in life Geminus was also a printer.

Geminus introduced to the English the use of copperplate engraving for book illustration, a technique he probably brought from his native Belgium.  A few months before the publication of the Compendiosa, Geminus produced the first engraved book illustrations published in England: two small copperplates, also copied from Vesalius, made for Thomas Raynalde's 1545 revision of The Byrth of Mankynde. The Compendiosa, with its forty copperplates, was the second English book illustrated with copperplates, and the first to contain an engraved title-page. Hind called this elaborate and elegant plate the "first engraving of any artistic importance produced in England." 

Encouraged by the success of his Latin edition of Vesalius, Geminus was persuaded, possibly by Vesalius's old roommate John Caius, to prepare a version of the Vesalian plates with English text for the benefit of "unlatined surgeons." As he doubted his proficiency in English, Geminus sought the aid of schoolmaster and dramatist Nicholas Udall, to translate the characterum indices of the Vesalian plates. The English text chosen to accompany the plates was an early translation of the Surgery of Henry de Mondeville, which Thomas Vicary, surgeon to Henry VIII, had used almost word for word in his own Anatomie of the Bodie of Man (1548). The text was rearranged in Geminus's book to follow the traditional order of conducting a dissection, beginning with the viscera and ending with the bones in order to dissect first those parts which would putrefy most rapidly. The English versions of Geminus's Compendiosa are particularly rare. Copies of the first English Compendiosa exist in two versions: the earlier has no date on the engraved title, while the later has the date "1553" in the lower right corner of the framed title on the engraved title-leaf.

Hind, Engraving in England in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries I (1952) 39-58. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 886.

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