07 June 2011

The Evelyn Tables

These are the Evelyn tables, a set of four anatomical tables showing the veins, arteries, vagi and sympathetic nerves of a single dissected human body, pasted onto wooden boards. They were prepared in Padua in 1646 by Giovanni Leoni d'Este, dissector to the Professor of Anatomy, Johann Vesling. John Evelyn acquired them -- perhaps the oldest anatomical preparations in Europe -- then donated them to the Royal Society. Evelyn recorded the purchase in his Diary:
Three daies after this, I tooke my leave of Venice, and went to Padoa to be present at the famous Anatomie Lecture, lasting almost the whole Moneth, during which I saw three, a Woman, a Child, & a Man dissected, with all the manual operations of the Chirurgion upon the humane body: The one performed by Cavaliere Vestlingius, & Dr Jo. Atheisteinus Leoncenas, of whom I purchased those rare Tables of Veines & Nerves & causd him to prepare a third of the Lungs, liver & Nervi sexti par: with the Gastric vaines, which I transported into England, the first of that kind had ben ever seene in our Country, & for ought I know, in the World . . . (January 1646; The diary of John Evelyn, ed. E S de Beer, 6 vols, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1955, vol. 2, p. 475)
(Sorry for the poor image quality. For larger versions, visit the online catalogue of the Royal College of Surgeons and search "Evelyn".)

I first stumbled across the Evelyn tables while researching botanist and microscopist Nehemiah Grew, who compiled a catalogue of the Royal Society collections, published in 1681 as the Musaeum Regalis Societatis. Grew mentions Evelyn's donation in his preface.

They of course immediately reminded me of the anatomical flap anatomies on exhibit at Duke right now, as well as a talk Michael Sappol gave at the accompanying symposium. Sappol discussed the Visible Human Plexi-book (2000), a human-size plastic "book" made up of vertical slices of the human body. In the plexi-book, paging through the book is paging through the human body.

(I can't find a picture of it anywhere online, but Sappol's book Dream Anatomy has a nice image on page 158, Cat. 188. )

Layered like small paper booklets bound at the neck, the flap anatomies treat organs as the unit of individuation, with paper lungs resting over a cut-out of a stomach. The plexi-book, though -- based on the Visible Human data set -- slices into the human body as if it exists within a perfect Euclidian plane, each page showing a two-dimensional slice of the X-Y axis as it moves across the Z-axis. Not only are these two radically different ways of visualizing (and virtually dissecting) the human body within space, they also present different methods for imposing the human form onto the codex, or perhaps absorbing the body into the book -- letting our own materiality dissolve into that of the page.

Evelyn's tables float somewhere between the flapbook and the plexi-book -- a "life-size" version of the tables in Vesalius' Epitome showing different anatomical systems the reader could cut and paste together.


Brooke said...

Glad to read about this! A nice earlier example I had to catalogue the other week but which the Hardin Library has totally beaten me in bringing to the amazing technicolor internet: Johann Remmelin's Catoptrum Microcosmicum (1619).


The first authorized edition was 1619-- it included textual keys to the flappy images...but earlier on in 1613 a few of Remmelin's friends (?) with access to his ideas/drawings funded a printing of the book without any explanatory text.

Long time admirer of yr blog by the by...

Whitney said...

Thanks! Remmelin's great. It'd be interesting to think about the explanatory text surrounding the flapped bodies (and sometimes reprinted images of the paper organs, too, if I'm remembering correctly?) as a kind of dissection of the book form onto a fugitive sheet.

Brooke said...

Yeah! And, possibly, it's a realization that bodies are better read as books rather than vice versa...

J. Vincler said...

You may be interested in seeing the Charles Estienne anatomical books we have at UNC. One is on exhibition now. (We have the first Latin and the French edition, which contains extra woodcuts.)

Some images online are here:

And here:

Here is a bit more about the exhibit, if you are interested: http://www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/rbc/index.php/2011/07/14/weve-been-busy-but-now-were-back/

It is worth a look (especially for you, I would think). You've mentioned the Rabanus Maurus two-colored grid poetry, I believe, which was used to illustrate the poster for the exhibit.

Whitney said...

Hi John -- Thanks! In Greensboro for the months; I'll come check out the exhibit (and say hi) when I'm back in Durham. Enjoying the new digital traces of what's going on at UNC-CH!