Networking with the Fabrica

Networking with a Book, or

How Vesalius Gave away his Complimentary Copies of the Fabrica

Dániel Margócsy, Márk Somos and Stephen Joffe

(The authors are currently conducting a census of the 1543 and 1555 editions of the Fabrica. Please let us know if you have or know of a copy at

Early modern authors tended not to get paid by the publisher. Instead, they usually received a good number of complimentary copies as payment in kind. Yet we have very little knowledge what they actually did with these copies. Did they sell it wholesale to a bookdealer, did they peddle it at fairs, or did they give it away to friends, relatives, and potential employers, as authors tend to do today? Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica, a revolutionary work of early modern anatomy, offers an excellent case study to reveal what strategies an author employed to put his complimentary copies to good use. The renowned Flemish anatomist came from a well-to-do family, and was already a professor at Padua in 1543 when his atlas appeared, and therefore had little need to sell the Fabrica for a living. Instead, he used these copies both for his own work and for building his professional networks.

It is well known how Vesalius used copies of his own books as a sketchpad for planning revised editions. As Vivian Nutton has shown, Vesalius marked his corrections and modifications of the text and the illustrations for a planned, but never realized, third edition of the Fabrica in a copy of the 1555 edition, now preserved at Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.[1] He similarly annotated his Institutiones anatomicae in the hopes of revising it, although he ultimately abandoned this project in favor of writing the Fabrica.[2] Yet in both cases, Vesalius used only one volume to record his corrections. What did he do with the other complimentary copies?

One answer is surely patronage. Vesalius dedicated the Fabrica to Emperor Charles V and the Epitome to the future Philip II, and brought the hand-colored presentation copies to the Emperor in person. The gift worked and Vesalius was soon appointed to the court as the personal physician of Charles. Yet Vesalius’ lavishly colored dedication copy to the emperor, now in a private collection, shows only one facet of Vesalius’ complex networking strategies in the period.[3] To keep his job, he also needed to maintain his reputation among his colleagues, and he strategically donated copies of the Fabrica to other physicians to form alliances with them. In all probability, most complimentary copies of the Fabrica were used for such purposes.

Our research has uncovered so far three copies of the 1543 and 1555 editions of the Fabrica that Vesalius probably gave away to his friends. The Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek Bonn (Call no.: Ra 2’ 21/1 Rara) holds a 1543 edition that was once owned by Vesalius, who offered it to the Nuremberg physician Stephanus Lagus in 1548. Vesalius’ strategy of gifting the Fabrica to friends and allies worked well, as Lagus appears to have much appreciated the present, carefully noting the act of donation in his copy: “Sum Stephani Lagi ex dono D. Andreae Vesalii anno 1548 Eslingae.”

Stephanus Lagus’ inscription in his Fabrica. © Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek Bonn

Stephanus Lagus’ inscription in his Fabrica. © Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek Bonn

The note is probably authentic, as Vesalius was traveling with Charles V in the Germanic lands in 1548, and Esslingen was a frequent stop for the emperor. The practice of inscribing copies with the name of the donor was quite common in the period. Lagus himself wrote a similar ex-dono note in his copy of Avicenna’s Canon medicinae, which he received from the Nuremberg pharmacist Albert Pfister. Presents of books were clearly important for Lagus, bearing witness to his network of friends in a material form.

The 1555 copy of the Fabrica at the Städel Museum’s Graphische Sammlung in Frankfurt am Main (Call No.: Tresor 2/390) shows how strategic such gifts may have been to preserve Vesalius’ reputation. As it is well known, the Parisian professor Jacobus Sylvius launched a vicious attack against Vesalius in 1551, calling his former student mad (‘vaesanus’). A former and disillusioned student of Sylvius’, Renatus Henerus came to the help of Vesalius and published a defense in 1555. In all probability, Vesalius thanked Henerus by offering him a copy of the freshly published second folio edition of his Fabrica.

Renatus Henerus’ inscription in his Fabrica. © Städel Museum Graphische Sammlung.

Renatus Henerus’ inscription in his Fabrica. © Städel Museum Graphische Sammlung.

The ex-dono note in the Städel copy specifies that Henerus received his copy as a gift from Vesalius in June 1557, which the family clearly prized. Not only did Renerus mark the act of donation, but his son Petrus also carefully read and annotated the volume, paying special attention to biographical details about Vesalius. Underneath the ex-dono inscription, Petrus composed a short note on Vesalius’ career, and also mentioned that his own father came to Vesalius’ help when Sylvius attacked him. Even a generation later, the family still much valued their connection to Vesalius, and used the Fabrica to create a permanent record of this relationship.  Importantly, the Städel copy also contains the annotations of Renatus Henerus, recording his own role in the Sylvius debate.

Renatus Henerus’s note on p. 40. © Städel Museum Graphische Sammlung.

Renatus Henerus’s note on p. 40. © Städel Museum Graphische Sammlung.

Next to one passage, where Vesalius refers to his critics and supporters without naming them, Renatus fills in “Sylvius” for the critic and “Fuchsius et ego” for the supporters. A member of the family also underlined crucial parts of the Fabrica that were a point of contention between Sylvius and Henerus, such as Vesalius’ discussion of the conspicuous foramen (canalis caroticus) and the rete mirabile. It is unclear if Petrus made this note while readering the Fabrica and his father’s work side by side, or Renatus did so to commemorate his own contributions for posterity. It is also possible, though less likely, that Henerus had access to this copy before the official date of donation, and these underlinings reflect his careful reading of the Fabrica, possibly in the company of Vesalius, to mark those passages he wanted to discuss.


We are less certain about the fate of a third copy of the Fabrica, now preserved at the Bibliothèque des Annonciades of Boulogne-sur-Mer in France (Call No.: Rés. f° S1 3341).

Joannes Viringus’ inscription in his Fabrica. © Bibliothèque municipale de Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Joannes Viringus’ inscription in his Fabrica. © Bibliothèque municipale de Boulogne-sur-Mer.

This copy bears the curious note, “Sum Vesalii Viringii,” implying that it once belonged to the author, before passing into the possession of Joannes Viringus, the Dutch translator of the Epitome. Not in the hand of Vesalius, this highly curious note was probably written by Viringus to record the notable previous owner, even if under erasure, and to mark his own, subsequent ownership. While we have no proof that Viringus and Vesalius met in person, they both lived in Flanders in the same period. Viringus may have acquired the volume from Vesalius as a gift, or he could have purchased it from the family after Vesalius’ death, as he was living near Brussels in the 1560s. Viringus also filled the volume with numerous annotations, in part to record his own observations that confirm Vesalius’, in part to clarify Vesalius’ relationship to earlier and later authors, and in part probably to prepare his Dutch translation of the Epitome.

Joannes Viringus compares the Fabrica with the Epitome, p. 249 [349]. © Bibliothèque municipale de Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Joannes Viringus compares the Fabrica with the Epitome, p. 249 [349]. © Bibliothèque municipale de Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Taken together, these three copies thus reveal how Vesalius’ own copies of the Fabrica entered circulation across the social networks of the author, and helped to disseminate Vesalius’ arguments. They could spur the production of new translations, but also could be used as a token of thanks to contemporaries who defended the author. Vesalius’ previous ownership of these volumes was clearly important to the recipients, who made a note of this for posterity. Yet, despite their reverence for Vesalius, they did not treat the Fabrica as an expensive coffetable book. They made their mark in the text with a pen, leaving evidence for future historians about their close engagement with the text and its arguments with other medical authorities in the period.

[1] Vivian Nutton. “Vesalius Revised. His Annotations to the 1555 Fabrica.” Medical History 56 (2012): 415-443.

[2] Vivian Nutton. “More Vesalian Second Thoughts. The Annotations to the Institutiones anatomicae secundum Galeni sententiam, 1538.” Gesnerus 72 (2015): 94-116.

[3] Sold at Christies Sale 8854, New York, March 18, 1998.

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Notes and Records – Essay Prize – deadline 31-01-16

Lunar Landscape 1910 (C) Royal Society Picture Library

Lunar Landscape 1910 (C) Royal Society Picture Library

Notes and Records: the Royal Society Journal for the History of Science is offering an essay prize.

This biennial competition is open to researchers in the history of science, technology and medicine who have completed a postgraduate degree within the last five years.

The unpublished essay, based on original research, should relate to aspects of the history of science, technology or medicine. The award includes a cash prize of £500. The deadline for submission of an essay is 31st January 2016.

More details at

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2 PhDs @ Leiden in Ichthyology

Drawing of fish from Ms III C 22, 110,© Amsterdam University Library. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Drawing of fish from Ms III C 22, 110,© Amsterdam University Library. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Visitors to this website might be interested to know that there are two PhD (full-time) places on offer at the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) is looking for a PhD student to work on a project called: Enlightened Fish Books: A New History of Eighteenth-Century Ichthyology (1686-1828), deadline 15 April, and Collection Building: Ichthyology in the Netherlands during the Nineteenth-Century (1760-1880), deadline 15 June. Below are the links to these posts. The funding is generous and Leiden is a beautiful town.

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Two Post-doctoral posts in the graphic and pictorial practices of the early Royal Society

Richard Waller's  study of plants (C) The Royal Society

Richard Waller’s study of plants (C) The Royal Society

Making Visible: the graphic and pictorial practices of the early Royal Society (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

2 x Postdoctoral Associates, starting 1 September 2015, for 3.5 years

Deadline: 8 April 2015.  Online application at: CRASSH

This AHRC-funded project examines the roles visual resources and practices played in the development and dissemination of scientific knowledge in the first fifty years of the Royal Society (1660-1710). It is an interdisciplinary project led by Dr Sachiko Kusukawa (history of science), with Dr Felicity Henderson (literature and material culture) and Dr Alexander Marr (history of art) as co-investigators. How did drawings, diagrams, tables and charts come to be used alongside words and objects by a group of people who hoped to reform and establish a new form of knowledge of nature, based on collaboration, experimentation and observation? In what ways did it mark the emergence of a scientific visual culture in the early modern period?

The project involves extensive archival research at the Royal Society, study sessions in historical graphic techniques and instrumentation, academic workshops involving international scholars, and interviews with curators and specialists. It also has an ambitious program of public engagement activities, including an exhibition in 2018 at the Royal Society. The findings of the project team will be disseminated through journal articles, a volume of essays, a co-authored monograph, blogs and pod-casts on the project website, as well as in public lectures, workshops and conferences. The project is looking for two PDRAs, one with a background in history of science and the other in history of art, who will collaborate closely.

The project is based at CRASSH, which also hosts Dr Alexander Marr’s ERC Project, Genius Before Romanticism: Ingenuity in Early Modern Art and Science and Dr Subha Mukherji’s ERC project, Epistemic Intersections in Early Modern England: the Place of Literature.

Download a Project Description

This post is suited to scholars in the early stage of their careers who have research experience in either history of art or history of science of the period, and are able to conduct archival research, have or are willing to acquire additional skills (e.g. drawing, printmaking techniques, object-handing, and use of historical instruments) by working with specialists and curators, and are familiar with digital media (database, blogs, websites, podcasts, social media).

The RAs are expected to conduct archival research (mainly at the Royal Society), generate and maintain data on a picture database, work effectively with a wide range of curators and specialists through study sessions and interviews, write research papers (a minimum of two papers during the project), participate in international workshops, assist in editorial work of project publications, generate content for the project website, collaborate on an exhibition to be held at the Royal Society, give gallery talks in that exhibition, plan, arrange and take part in the project’s public engagement activities. They will work closely with the investigators.


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Call for proposals: Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries @Rijksmuseum and Trippenhuis

‘Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries’ 

Astronomical Clock by Richard Ledutz, c. 1640, 39.5 cm high. Rijjksmuseum

Astronomical Clock by Richard Ledutz, c. 1640, 39.5 cm high. Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam, 17-18 September 2015; submit proposals by 15 April 2015


Anticipating plans for a future exhibition on Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries (ca 1550-1730), the Rijksmuseum and the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Royal Dutch Academy of
Arts and Sciences) organize a preliminary, two-day conference. This event will take place at the Rijksmuseum (September 17th) and the Trippenhuis (September 18th) in Amsterdam.

The Low Countries were flourishing in the early Modern Period, influenced by developments in Northern Italy and Southern Germany. First Antwerp and later Amsterdam emerged as centers of artistic and scientific innovation and creativity, and as nodal points in the exchange of goods, knowledge and skills. It is certainly no coincidence that a high level of artistic productivity in the Low Countries coincided with the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’. Seen from a contemporary point of view, ars and scientia were complementary concepts, rather than opposites.

The aim of the conference is to explore the possibilities, prospects and also the pitfalls of the conjunction of ‘art and science’, and to contribute to the developing conversation between historians of art, historians of science
and everyone interested in the visual and material culture of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Low Countries. The organizers look forward to receiving original submissions that address the relationships between art and science on both a material and a conceptual level.

Proposals which take objects, works of art, images, or illustrated texts as their point of departure are particularly welcomed. These may include ‘borderline’ topics – cross-overs between art and science, such as decorated shells, maps, models, pop-up books or anatomical preparations. Although the focus of the conference will be the Low Countries – both the South and the North – proposals which make reference to developments elsewhere shall certainly be considered, so long as the overall relevance for the main theme is clear.

Topics for discussion may include, but are not limited to:

  • the fluid borders between art and nature, both in theory and in practice (e.g. life casting techniques, strategies of display),
  • the influence and use of new theories and instruments of visual representation (e.g. the use of perspective, anatomical analysis, the telescope, microscope and camera obscura),
  • the processes and techniques that artists used for the visual representation of the increasing body of traditional and new knowledge, such as different print media and the use of color, multi-sheet and interactive prints.
  • the mediation of direct observation by visual conventions and the specific demands of illustrations concerned with the production of new knowledge (for instance with regard to previously unknown flora, fauna and peoples, and to anatomical and astronomical discoveries),
  • the emergence in visual materials of new conceptions of objectivity and trustworthiness (e.g. the meaning of ‘ad vivum’ and its cognates; the character and use of illustrations in natural histories and ‘scientific’ treatises),
  • spaces where scholars, craftsmen and artists cooperated, discussed and produced new knowledge, such as cabinets of curiosities, the workshop, the anatomical theatre and the botanical garden,
  • the role of religion in the definition and construction of knowledge and its influence on the visualization of knowledge.

We invite proposals for 20-minute and 10-minute papers, presenting the results of new or ongoing research. 
A 300-word abstract (preferably including an image or reference to a work of art), together with a short curriculum vitae, should be sent to both:

Jan de Hond (

Eric Jorink (

Proposals should be submitted no later than April 15, 2015.

The selection of proposals will take place during the following month.

For further particulars, see pdf: CfP Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries 17-18 September 2015

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Call for Papers: Modern Scientific Observing Depicting Disseminating @ Graz

Observing Depicting Disseminating
The Scientific Perspective in the Modern Period

Symposium: 7-9 May 2015; Sign up by 1 February 2015

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the interdisciplinary Centre for the History of Science at the University of Graz is organising a two-day conference on the topic of “Observing, Depicting and Disseminating” and its relevance for the history of science.

In 1776 the Protestant pastor, librarian and naturalist Jean Senebier (1742-1809) described his ideal of a naturalist in his essay concerning the practices of scientific observation as follows:

For the observer who seeks to enlighten people, it is not sufficient to have noticed a phenomenon. It is necessary that he reveals it to the senses of those who are not observing and that he, by his own example, instructs all those who are unaware of it.”1

Even though scientific work has changed significantly since the 18th century, three components can be found in this quote that still shape our understanding of science today and that have provided the key words for this congress.


Observing – as the foundation of any empirical science – is a fundamental human ability used to encode and understand the natural world. Systemizing scientific observations, theoretically questioning them and finally drawing rule-governed conclusions from them distinguishes scientific observations from everyday experiences. The act of observation played a key role in the emergence of empirical sciences. This ocularcentrism in western sciences is not only based on the established methods of empirical observation and research but also on concepts of epistemology and the perception theories of philosophers like Francis Bacon or John Locke. Inextricably linked to this are the invention, development and usage of scientific instruments that enhanced human perception and opened up new vistas, questions and problems within the realm of scientific observations. To what extent do theory and practice correlate in terms of perception and observation? Which ways of observing can be reconstructed in the history of science? What problems of justification arise due to the usage of scientific instruments? How much does the “scientific perspective” change the way we look at the world?

1 Senebier, Jean: L’art d’observer, Vol. 2, Geneva 1775, S. 2. Own translation.


The many different ways of depicting the visible and the invisible world have always been central to the development of the sciences. They represent comprehensive theoretical concepts, serve as epistemic tools or epitomize the coherences of a natural order. Without depicting the results of scientific work it would be impossible to spread these findings for the purpose of scientific progress. Various forms of depiction and techniques of (re-)presentation – from artistic drawings to computer-generated imaging – illustrate the scientific genesis and refer to a dialectic between observer and the observed. How did the relation between perception and depiction take shape in the course of the history of science? What were the aims of documenting and were these aims fulfilled? How much did documenting influence scientific thought?


Passing on and explaining scientific knowledge has always been necessary both within and outside the scientific community. The results of scientific thinking and activity have always been communicated within scientific institutions, such as universities, academies or scientific societies but also in the wider areas of social life. Therefore, questions concerning the various ways of conveying information arise, as well as questions about the target audience. What forms of conveying information were developed in the course of the history of science and which were actually used? In what way did the active conveying of scientific information influence scientific attitudes and opinions? How did the various ways of disseminating information influence the information itself?

The symposium welcomes scholars of all disciplines interested in the history of science, so that the “scientific perspective” can be approached in an interdisciplinary context from different theoretical standpoints. Questions concerning the general field of observing, depicting and disseminating can be considered as possible contributions, but other suggestions are welcome as long as they address the genesis of sciences and their methods of operating and thinking.

For further details, see the pdf:  ODDCallForPapersEN.

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A four-year Cambridge Post-doctoral fellowship in Art as a Source of Knowledge

Visitors to this site would be interested to know that Churchill College, Cambridge, has advertised a new post-doctoral fellowship:

Jeffrey Rubinoff Fellowship in Art as a Source of Knowledge

Churchill College, Cambridge

Churchill College, Cambridge

A new four-year research fellowship at Churchill College for early career postdoctoral researchers working in the field of Art as a Source of Knowledge, with a focus on the visual arts.

Human interaction with art, whether as creators, commissioners or receivers, by its nature engages the senses, the intellect and the emotions. From it we learn about ourselves, about the physical, social and intellectual world around us, and about wider society and other societies, in terms of culture, ideas, politics, religion and economics. It can be a window into other worlds, otherwise hidden from us. It provides perspective. It teaches us things of which we were scarcely aware, or even completely unaware.

Further details are available on the Churchill website:

And the application is through the Churchill JRF scheme (deadline 16 November 2014):

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Call for Abstracts: Netherlandish Art in its Global Context

Call for Abstracts: Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art / Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, Volume 66:

BrillNetherlandish Art in its Global Context / De mondiale context van Nederlandse kunst

Netherlandish art testifies in various ways to the increased interconnectivity of the Early Modern world. The Low Countries were an essential node during “First Globalization”: Antwerp and Amsterdam became global capitals while the “world’s first multinational”, the Dutch East India Company, heralded the age of classical capitalism. Fortuitous factors, including successful mercantile logistics, the geographical reach of the Jesuit mission, and the thriving publishing and translation industry made the area a crucible of cultural exchange. Everyday lives changed as foreign luxuries, and local copies, became widely available. Eventually, Dutch imitations of Chinese porcelain found their way to colonists in Surinam. Not only were these objects implicit or explicit repositories of knowledge, carriers of ideas unto which new expectations were projected; the Netherlands also engendered a worldwide public for prints and a surplus of migrant artists. The Low Countries, as a contested fringe area of the Habsburg Empire marked by internal fault lines, demonstrated a unique intellectual flexibility and creative productivity in the first period of intensive artistic exchange between Europe and the rest of the world.

Outside rare products such as Joost van den Vondel’s dramatization of the fall of the Ming dynasty, literary reflections on this new interconnectivity were remarkably scarce. The visual arts are by comparison eloquent testimony to the global dimension of Netherlandish commerce and culture: from paintings depicting exotica to new iconography directed at global proselytization. Some painters seem to have realized this. When Samuel van Hoogstraten, in Introduction to the Academy of Painting (1678), sought to defend the Netherlandish school in comparison to Italy and the ancients, he highlighted its domain as the “entire visible world” and extended his analysis to East Asia and the Americas. He praised Rembrandt’s The Preaching of Saint John (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) for the international audience it depicted, including an American Indian and a Japanese samurai.

Recent exhibitions have addressed the “Asian” dimension of Netherlandish art. The Rijksmuseum explored the meeting between East and West in De Nederlandse ontmoeting met Azie (2002). The Getty Museum’ s Looking East: Rubens’ s Encounter with Asia (2013) and Asia in Amsterdam (2015, Rijksmuseum / Peabody Essex Museum) focus on the way the East was perceived in Western eyes. The Victoria & Albert Museum examined the question of style with Baroque 1620–1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence (2009).

Scholars are increasingly embracing a worldwide approach and individual case studies have addressed Netherlandish art. Two of the first collective efforts appeared in 2014. Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia (Kaufmann & North) focuses on the impact of Dutch art, from Persia to Indonesia; Chinese and Japanese Porcelains for the Dutch Golden Age (Van Campen & Eliëns) highlights the unique role of Chinese and Japanese ceramics in Dutch cultural history. Yet an integrated analysis of Netherlandish art from the perspective of global history has not yet been undertaken. Scholars hesitate to re-introduce universalist terms such as “Baroque” or to project back unto the Early Modern situation recent notions of cultural hybridity, imperialism, consumer capitalism, and globalisation.

The next volume of the NKJ intends to explore further the global dimension of Netherlandish art. Contributions are invited which do more than stretch geographical boundaries. In many cases, the trajectory of images of and from the foreign involved “cross-mediality”: being, for instance, first published in print before returning in the applied arts and architecture. The point of origin demands interest, but also the reappropriation in Dutch or Flemish contexts. The editors welcome contributions on the various arts and crafts—including paintings, sculpture, architecture, prints, ceramics, furniture, maps, and models—and their interrelations.

The editors expect not only to bring new case-studies into the discussion but also to contribute to conceptual clarity and directions for future research. What is more, they hope that the comparative approach suggested by global history will put to the test accepted terms of periodization in art history such as “Early Modern”. Themes that may play a role are, amongst others, global versus local; the agency of material culture; imagology; cultural hybridity; network analysis; and the relinquishment of Eurocentric approaches. In addition, contributions may address the growing role of countries outside the West in collecting and studying Netherlandish art in the twenty-first century.

The NKJ is dedicated to a particular theme each year and publishes articles that employ a diversity of approaches to the study of Netherlandish art. For more information, see jaarboek

Contributions to the NKJ (in Dutch, English, German or French) are limited to a maximum of 7,500 words, excluding the notes.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 1 January 2015. Selection of proposals will take place in January and February 2015. The deadline for submission of the full articles for consideration and editorial comment is 15 May 2015. Final decisions on the acceptance of any paper will be made by the editorial board following receipt of the complete text.

Proposals for papers, in the form of a 300-word abstract and a short CV, should be sent to: Eric Jorink (
Frits Scholten (
Thijs Weststeijn (

Deadline: 1 January 2015

Notification: February 2015

Deadline first draft: 15 May 2015



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Ad vivum? call for papers @ Courtauld


** Friday 21 and Saturday 22 November 2014** (please note revised dates)

Organised by Professor Joanna Woodall and Dr Thomas Balfe.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN


The term ad vivum and its cognates al vivo, au vif, nach dem Leben and naer het leven have been applied since the thirteenth century to depictions designated as from, to or after (the) life. This one and a half day event will explore the issues raised by this vocabulary in relation to visual materials produced and used in Europe before 1800, including portraiture, botanical, zoological, medical and topographical images, images of novel and newly discovered phenomena, and likenesses created through direct contact with the object being depicted, such as metal casts of animals.

It is has long been recognised that the designation ad vivum was not restricted to depictions made directly after the living model, and that its function was often to advertise the claim of an image to be a faithful likeness or a bearer of reliable information. Viewed as an assertion of accuracy or truth, ad vivum raises a number of fundamental questions about early modern epistemology – questions about the value and prestige of visual and/or physical contiguity between image and original, about the kinds of information which were thought important and dependably transmissible in material form, and about the roles of the artist in this transmission. The recent interest of historians of early modern art in how value and meaning are produced and reproduced by visual materials which do not conform to the definition of art as unique invention, and of historians of science and of art in the visualisation of knowledge, has placed the questions surrounding ad vivum at the centre of their common concerns.

This event will encourage conversation and interchange between different perspectives involving a wide range of participants working in different disciplines, from postgraduate students to established academics. It seeks to encourage dialogue and debate by devoting a portion of its time to sessions comprising short, 10-minute papers, which will allow a variety of ideas and areas of expertise to be drawn into the discussion.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  •  The role of images, including book illustrations, described as ad vivum in early modern natural history, geography, cosmography, medicine and other investigative disciplines;
  •  The meanings of ad vivum in relation to sacred images, portraiture, landscape depiction, animal imagery, and other types of subject matter involving a claim to life-likeness;
  •  The connections between ad vivum and indexical images: death masks; life casts; the moulage; auto-prints made from natural phenomena;
  •  The connections between concepts of ad vivum and graphic media: the print matrix; imitation and reproduction in print; drawings, diagrams which claim to be ad vivum;
  •  The concept of ad vivum in cabinets of curiosities, sets and series, other groupings and collections;
  •  The application of the phrase ad vivum and its cognates to specific images, and usages and discussions of the terminology in early modern texts;
  •  The use of ad vivum in relation to images of the marvellous and the incredible, including monsters and other prodigies of nature.

We invite proposals for:

  •  20-minute papers
  •  Short, 10-minute (maximum 1,000-word) papers which will address one example or theme, or make one argument persuasively

Please send proposals of no more than 250 words by 15 August 2014 to and

PDF of the call is here

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Vivitur Ingenio: a virtual exhibition of Vesalius’s Fabrica and Epitome @ Cambridge

Vivitur Ingenio: a virtual exhibition of Vesalius’s Fabrica and Epitome

Vesalius, Fabrica 1543, p. 164 (C) National Library of Medicine, Bethesda

Vesalius, Fabrica 1543, p. 164 (C) National Library of Medicine, Bethesda

‘Vivitur ingenio, caeteris mortis erunt’ – one lives on by the spirit, the rest shall belong to death – was a line commonly attributed to Virgil lamenting the death of his patron Maecenas (though we now know that the poet died before his patron). It is a phrase that adorns one of the most enduring images in On the fabric of the human body by Andreas Vesalius. He was born 500 years ago in 1514; he died fifty years later, in 1564. To mark the 500th anniversary of his birth, I have curated an online exhibition of several rare books from the wonderful collection at the University Library of Cambridge.   The exhibition link is here:

Albrecht Duerer, Engraving of Willibald Pirckheimer (1524) Wikimedia.

Albrecht Duerer, Engraving of Willibald Pirckheimer (1524) Wikimedia.

The Virgilian phrase was used earlier by Albrecht Dürer in his engraving portrait of his humanist friend, Willibald Pirckheimer, and deployed later by the astronomer Tycho Brahe as a decoration to one of his instruments, as explained in the Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica – see the coloured version with English translation at the Royal Library of Denmark here.


I was quite struck by not only how often Vesalius’s image of the skeleton was copied , but also how the notion of ‘ingenium’ seems to have become important for those engaged in the study of nature. Perhaps Vesalius’s image of the skeleton was one medium through which the idea of ‘ingenium’ circulated. Thus I felt it fitting to use the phrase as a motto for the exhibition.


An advantage of a digital exhibition is that it can show many pages from the same book, juxtapose pages from different books, and show elements that are difficult to appreciate (such as continuous background landscapes) in a book in situ. The zooming facility enables us to see the extraordinary details achieved by woodcut in the Fabrica. The experience of the twenty-first-century viewer of the Fabrica is thus quite different from Vesalius’s contemporaries, who complained that some of the details were not readily visible.


Part of the paper manikin of a coloured manikin from Vesalius Epitome (1543) (C) Cambridge University Library

Part of the paper manikin from Vesalius’s Epitome (1543) (C) Cambridge University Library

Cambridge University Library also took this occasion to digitize fully its extraordinary coloured copy of Vesalius’s Epitome, the companion volume to the Fabrica. Happily, in this copy of the Epitome, the cut-out, ‘pop-up’ paper manikin has survived.  You can see the book here.

I have particularly enjoyed examining the coloured frontispiece of the Epitome (the same woodcut as the one used in the Fabrica), as the colouring brings out the details of the crowded theatrical scene of the black-and-white woodcut. We know very little at this point of the original provenance of this copy of the Epitome – for whom it was made and coloured. It is not clear, for example, whether or how it might relate to the lavishly coloured copy of the Fabrica that Vesalius dedicated to Emperor Charles V. This copy was sold at Christies NY in 1998, from the collection of the Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine, and its frontispiece can be examined in some detail at the website of New York Public Library (remnant of the 1999/2000 exhibition ‘Seeing is Believing’).

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