From the Archives – Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body (Albinus)
UPDATED 17/11/2022: all of the access links and content in this blog post checked and updated accordingly.
This post is a first in our “From the Archives” series highlighting some of the less well-known items held in the BMA Library and Archives collection.
Born in 1697, Bernhard Siegfried Albinus was a German-born Dutch anatomist.
Working with Hermann Boerhaave, Albinus published works on Andreas Vesalius and William Harvey, but is probably best known for his Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani, first published in Leiden in 1747. Working with the engraver Jan Wandelaar this publication contains numerous beautiful, anatomically accurate depictions of the human body showcased in natural, pastoral landscapes. It took over eight years to complete.
An unauthorised English translation of the book was published in London in 1749. Titled Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body, this is the edition held by the BMA library. As you can see from the picture, it is an impressive sized volume compared to other books in the library!
This first table, Tab I, contains chiefly a front view or figure of the Human Skeleton; with some added ligaments and cartilages.
The foundation for Albinus’s illustrations is the human skeleton. Many anatomical drawings begin with the outside of the human body, but Albinus removed all the muscles and ligaments so that the illustrations begin with the skeleton.
This second table, Tab II, contains a rear view of the Human Skeleton. Table III is the sideways view.
Tab I, [Human body with muscles] Albinus preserved the soft tissue and then added it to the skeleton to make his “muscleman”.
Tab IV [Skeleton with Rhinoceros, Front View]
These show a standing human skeleton with partial musculature posed in front of a rhinoceros, one view from the front and one from the back. These anatomical illustrations are renowned not only as the first of their kind that influenced generations of anatomists and artists, but for incorporating the first accurately drawn depictions of a living rhinoceros. Wandelaar drew the exotic animal from life at the Amsterdam Zoo, where the first living specimen to arrive in Europe, nicknamed Clara, was brought in 1741.
Tab VIII, [Skeleton with Rhinoceros, Back View]
“Bernhard Siegfried Albinus.’ University of Virginia, Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. 2007. http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/treasures/bernhard-siegfried-albinus-1697-1770/