Johan Remmelin (1583–1632) was town physician of Ulm and Plague physician of Augsberg. He was also the man behind both the concept and the original drawings (engraved by Lucas Kilian) for the ingenious moving-parts anatomical extravaganza Catoptrum microcosmicum, published in 1619, with numerous editions in many languages thereafter. NYAM has both the 1619 and a 1639 edition in its rare book collection.
This astounding book—in which flaps of paper can be drawn back to virtually dissect the human body—features a heady blend of the anatomical, the theological, and the metaphysical, beautifully expressing the worldview of Natural Philosophy, that precursor to science, which oversaw investigations into the human body in the early modern era. In this worldview, God and man, metaphor and the encountered world, were indivisible; the human being was the microcosm of all creation, so to understand the secrets of the human body would be to know the mind of God. Accordingly, as explained by Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace in their book Spectacular Bodies:
The purpose of anatomical images during the period from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century had as much to do with what we would call aesthetic and theological understanding as with the narrower intentions of medical illustration as now understood. . . .They were not simply instructional diagrams for the doctor technician, but statements about the nature of human beings as made by God in the context of the created world as a whole [as well as] the nature of life and death. . . .
It should not be surprising, then, that the dissectible humans herein are inextricably entwined with images of Jesus Christ (image 9,17); memento mori mottos (16) and imagery (images 12, 17); allusions to God and the angels (image 1); and even the head of the devil, serving as a kind of fig leaf covering the female sex organs in one instance (image 2). There are also numerous biblical references, including a serpent slithering through a human skull holding a branch from the tree of knowledge in its mouth (image 13), lest we forget that original sin introduced death and disease into our world in the first place; without it, we would still be luxuriating in Eden with no need for medicine, or, by extension, books such as this one. The book also contains the occasional inadvertent (?) eroticism, as the peeling back of obscuring layers brings you, in a sort of pre-modern striptease, to the unveiled sexual organs below (image 14 and 15).
If you page through all of the images below, you will get a sense of the carnivalesque exuberance and dynamism of this book; you can also virtually dissect them yourself by clicking here, or here, compliments of The Hardin Library of The University of Iowa, which was also a source for much of the factual content of this piece.
This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more. All images are my own, photographed at the New York Academy of Medicine.