Glasgow Incunabula Project update (21/3/13)

As an anatomist, physician and man-midwife, Dr William Hunter unsuprisingly collected a lot of  material relating to medicine, including a number of incunabula.  This batch features several medical books from Hunter’s library, including the Fasciculus Medicinae. One of the most popular of 15th century treatises on medicine, it was compiled by Johannes de Ketham.

Wound man

Detail of woodcut of a “wound man” (Hunterian Ds.2.2, fol. b5v)

Some confusion, however, has surrounded the authorship of this work. ISTC states that “Johannes de Ketham can be convincingly identified as Hans von Kircheim of Swabia, fl. 1455-1470, professor of medicine in Vienna, who used this collection for his lectures and recommended it to his pupils”. However, this collection of texts was in fact in circulation by 1400, and Christian Coppens (“‘For the Benefit of Ordinary People’: The Dutch Translation of the Fasciculus medicinae, Antwerp 1512” Quaerendo, 39 (2009), 168-205 (in particular pp. 169-171)) argues persuasively that Ketham is not Kircheim.Whoever was originally responsible for it, this compendium of treatises (which includes works on anatomy and the plague) was something of a late medieval best seller; it circulated widely in manuscript form before being first printed in 1491. No less than fourteen editions followed over the next three decades. Highly regarded as a useful handbook by practising physicians, few early copies have survived.

A doctor visiting a plague patien (Hunterian Ds.2.2, fol. c5r)

A doctor visiting a plague patient (Hunterian Ds.2.2, fol. c5r)

This copy from 1500 is illustrated throughout by elegant woodcuts.  The work of a superb Venetian artist of the circle of Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516), these form the first series of didactic medical illustrations to appear in print. Shown above is a poignant scene of a doctor’s visit to a patient stricken with plague. The robed physician takes the pulse of the victim; note that he has covered his nose in an attempt to avoid contagion!

Colophon annotated with foliation (Hunterian Ds.2.2, fol. f4v)

Colophon annotated with foliation (Hunterian Ds.2.2, fol. f4v)

Like the book in my last blog which featured a manuscript index to woodcuts of plants, some of the illustrations in this book were evidently of practical benefit to an early reader. Several illustrations  have been captioned in the upper margins  in a 16th-century hand, although these have unfortunately suffered from some cropping in rebinding. Furthermore, an early reader has foliated the volume, and added references to that foliation to the colophon on f4v (a kind of back to front table of contents). Intriguingly, the foliation is marked as leaves “55” to “88”, indicating that this text was once bound with another or other works.

The latest ten records to be fully indexed on the project website are:



Categories: Special Collections

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  1. Glasgow Incunabula Project update (5/9/13) « University of Glasgow Library
  2. Glasgow Incunabula Project update (25/11/13) « University of Glasgow Library

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