Can We Turn the Pages?

Ebling Library has a robust Rare Books & Special Collections that includes extraordinary anatomical texts. Professor Shira Brisman, from UW’s Department of Art History, and her class from “The Artist as Scientist,” came to the Historical Reading Room for a short tutorial on illustrated anatomical texts. The students had questions about the way the books were produced using engraving and type setting, how the books were bound, where the books came from, and how practitioners from the 16th-18th centuries would have used the generally large tomes.

Exhibiting some of our most stellar examples of the art (and science) of anatomy, books like Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis (1543), Pare’s 1582 Opera Ambrosii Parie, Bidloo’s 1685 Anatomia Humani corporis and the amazing, colorful Expostition anatomique by Dagoty, Professor Brisman had them describe what they saw in the images, whether there were artistic conventions at work in the renditions and how they thought the production of such images informed the science of the time.

With a number of titles the students were allowed to turn the pages and found countless examples of ephemera (notes in margins, doodles) throughout the books. As one student exclaimed, “We’re touching something that’s 400 years old! Do you think they knew when they published it that some student in Wisconsin would be turning the pages in 2016?!” Many students took photos of the images, prompting another student to suggest, “Published in 1598, on Instagram today…super cool…” We agreed. All the books they viewed are cataloged in the Library Catalog. If interested in seeing these or other such material, please contact Micaela Sullivan-Fowler,

ReadingRoom1 Student and Bidloo (1685)

ReadingRoom3 Hands, books and phones- Valverde (1589) and Porta (1598)

ReadingRoom2 Students and Porta’s Della fisonomia dell’huomo (1598). Professor Brisman (blue dress) in the background with another reprinted Vesalius, 1642.