Item of the Month: Jacques Gamelin’s Nouveau recueil d’osteologie et de myologie

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Performing Medicine Festival on April 5, 2014, which will explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts. Register for the festival here.

Skeleton Musicians from Jacques Gamelin

O Quanto ci deve dare pensiere (O, how it should give us thought). Table 5. Click to enlarge.

The musical skeletons featured in our Performing Medicine design look cheerful enough. However, the text beneath the flautist’s feet, “O Quanto ci deve dare pensiere,” or “O, how it should give us thought,” makes it clear that they are a memento mori, reminding viewers of the inevitability of death. The skeletons come from Jacques Gamelin‘s Nouveau recueil d’osteologie et de myologie (A New Collection of Bones and Muscles, Drawn from Life).

Artists studying anatomy, title page, v.2.

Artists studying anatomy, title page, v.2. Click to enlarge.

The Nouveau recueil d’osteologie et de myologie is an opulent and eccentric work, published in Toulouse in 1779 and paid for with financing from Gamelin’s patron, Baron de Puymaurin, and an inheritance from Gamelin’s father. The volume’s 41 full-page engraved plates and ten etchings are by turns witty and fantastical while maintaining a high level of accuracy and anatomical detail. Jacques Gamelin trained as a painter and engraver and designed the work to be of use to artists as well as anatomy students. The first section of the book is dedicated to bones, the second to muscles, and throughout the book allegorical scenes and tableaux highlight warfare, battles, and death.

Local authorities in Toulouse gave Gamelin access to the corpses of executed criminals, and he produced sketches based on his dissections. He then worked with two engravers, Jacques Lavalée and an artist known only as Martin, to produce prints from these drawings (“Lavalée Inc. 1778” and “Gamelin fec.” (Gamelin fec[it] – or Gamelin made it) are both found on the musical skeleton image). Production of the 200 copies of the volume, which took two years, bankrupted Gamelin, and many copies were subsequently pulped.

Skeleton figure responding to Trumpet call on day of resurrection

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Find more information at Gamelin’s Marauding Skeletons and Écorché Crucifixions and Princeton’s Graphic Arts blog. More images from the book can be found on the National Library for Medicine’s Historical Anatomies on the Web.