The coloured frontispiece of the Epitome, 1543

Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, Basel: ex. off. J. Oporini, 1543, frontispiece, coloured woodcut, leaf height 55.8 cm, CCF.46.36.

The Fabrica was already a large folio book with over 700 pages; Vesalius had offered to pay extra for larger paper, since he wanted his book to be as impressive as possible. The paper for the Epitome was even larger , though it had fewer than 30 pages. The larger paper size of the Epitome meant that there was space underneath the woodcut, which was used to explain that the book comprised two parts. The first part contained a ‘very succinct’ textual description of all parts of the body, and the second part contained the delineations of those parts, with keys and legends.

The Cambridge copy of the Epitome was once owned by the Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge, Alexander Macalister (1844-1919). Its colouring is believed to be original, and is similar in the colouring pattern (e.g. the marbled effect of the title cartouche) to the copy presented by Vesalius to Emperor Charles V (formerly in the Haskell F. Norman Library, not shown here). The Fabrica was dedicated to Charles V and the Epitome to his son, the future king of Spain Philip II (1527-1598), who would have been 16 at the time of the publication of this book. This might suggest a younger, less knowledgeable intended audience for the Epitome, though it was often sold together with the Fabrica. There is no evidence to suggest that this was the actual copy dedicated to Prince Philip.

In 1543, the Fabrica and the Epitome were sold together at about five florins total: the Epitome was priced at two-thirds of a florin (or 10 batzen), and the Fabrica cost six-and-a-half-times more. Five florins would have bought about 34 meals (with meat) at a guesthouse in Basel at the time. To view the whole of the Epitome, click on the Digital Library link below.