Uroscopy and blood-letting

Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum, Westminster: Wynkyn de Worde, 1496, mii recto, leaf height 26.8 cm, Inc.3.J.1.2[3559].

Bartholomaeus Anglicus was a thirteenth-century Franciscan friar, originally from England, who spent much of his time on the Continent, in Germany, Austria and Poland, among other places. By 1250, he compiled On the properties of things, which explained various topics in the Bible for the edification of student friars. This work circulated widely as a reference book and a sourcebook for sermons. The first printed edition was produced by Johann Schilling in Cologne around 1471 for William Caxton (1415~24–1492), who subsequently introduced printing into England. 24 incunable editions (pre-1500) are known in Latin, Dutch, French, Spanish and English.

This English version (based on the translation by John Trevisa from 1399) was printed by Wynkyn de Worde (d. 1534/5) who had initially worked for Caxton. After Caxton’s death, De Worde took over his business and printed from the same premises in Westminster for a while. De Worde’s’s publications tended to include more illustrations than Caxton’s; his edition of On the properties of things includes a few woodcuts that are based on designs from an earlier edition printed by Mathias Huss (Lyon, 1482 onwards), while Caxton’s was unillustrated.

This woodcut accompanies the section on the ages of man. In the top half of the image, the ages are illustrated as a baby, toddler, boy, a man in his prime (in the company of others) and death behind him. In the bottom half, inside a house, a physician examines urine at a woman’s bedside, and a surgeon is cutting open a vein on the shoulder of a seated woman who seems to have fainted. These conventional tasks of the physician illustrate how the healing art supports every stage of a person’s life.