For Your Enjoyment: Color Our Collections

Normally, altering pages of the library’s rare treasures is discouraged, but six images from books in the Health Sciences Library’s Rare Materials Collection are now available for coloring. Many printed illustrations, especially those published before 1800, were intended to be hand-colored, and we invite you to do that. The images have been uploaded to the library’s Facebook page.

These images were selected as part of the Color Our Collections event, February 1-5, 2016, led by the New York Academy of Medicine. Libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions from all over the world have made public domain images from their collections available on social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

You are invited to browse, download, and color any images you like, and if you are so inclined, please share your creation on social media with the hashtag..

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Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]


Rare Book Profile: Dell’anatomia, a facsimile of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook.


Dell’anatomia by Leonardo da Vinci (Rome: TREC edizioni pregiate, 2005) is a compilation of anatomical studies that predate the great anatomy books of the sixteenth century.

In January 2015, the Health Sciences Library Rare Materials Collection acquired a facsimile of the anatomical drawings and notes of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), composed between 1485 and 1515, which are now housed in the Royal Library, Windsor.

Leonardo’s early training in the studio of the painter Verrocchio in Florence included study of the human figure. When he became court artist to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan in the 1480s, he began work on drawings of human anatomy, but in the 1490s he turned his attention to other projects. As his stature as an artist, and inventor grew, so did his access to human corpses. In the early 1500s, he resumed intensive study of anatomy based on human dissection. His drawings were remarkably accurate, even by modern standards. Some of his observations, such as those on the function of the heart, were not recorded again until the 20th century. Had his work been published, as he seems to have intended, it would have been revolutionary.

At Leonardo’s death in 1519, his manuscripts and drawings were bequeathed to his student and secretary, Francesco Melzi. After Melzi died in 1579, the documents were dispersed, eventually making their way into various collections, where Leonardo’s scientific works remained unpublished until centuries after his death.

This edition, published in 2005, is based on earlier editions of 1898 and 1901. 1,999 copies were produced. The facsimile, containing 113 color plates with line drawing overlays and 380 pages of text, was printed on a special paper made in Verona, and hand-bound in gold-tooled leather. It was purchased with funds from the Charley Smyth Library Endowment, established with the Library by the Anschutz Medical Campus Retired Faculty Association, in memory of their colleague and friend Dr. Charley Smyth, founder and Head of the Division of Rheumatology in the Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]


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Rare Book Profile: Thomas Willis’ Cerebri Anatome cue Accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usus.

Thomas Willis’s Cerebri Anatome cue Accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usus (London: Thomas Roycroft, 1664) improved on existing descriptions of the brain, and was the first to attribute functions to different parts. It was considered the definitive description of the brain for the next two hundred years.

Thomas Willis (1621-1675) was an English physician best known for contributions to the fields of anatomy, neurology and psychiatry. He made major contributions to cardiology, endocrinology (especially the study of diabetes mellitus), and gastroenterology. He received a master’s degree from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642, fought for Charles I in the English Civil War, then returned to his studies, receiving the degree of bachelor of medicine in 1646.  He was part of a group of scholars devoted to experimentation in chemistry and fermentation, which included John Locke, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, and others. De Fermentatione, published in 1656, and De Febribus, published in 1659, grew from this collaborative work as well as his medical practice. As a Royalist, Willis was barred from holding office until the Restoration. In 1660, he replaced a Commonwealth supporter as professor of natural philosophy at Oxford, where he explored the anatomy of the brain as a means to determine the nature of the soul. Later that year he became a doctor of medicine. He was one of the early fellows of the Royal Society (1661), and was elected an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in 1664. In 1666, he moved to London and established a profitable medical practice, whose clientele included the Duke of York (later King James II).

Cerebri Anatome was a collaborative effort with physician Sir Thomas Millington and anatomist Richard Lower, with illustrations by Christopher Wren, combining knowledge received from earlier anatomists with their own experimental and clinical observations. It contains 29 chapters on the anatomy and function of the brain and nervous system, the first of which was devoted to study methods and specimen preparation. The brain was removed from the skull before being sliced from the base upwards, then examined with magnification and drawn by Wren, whose drawings were then sent to a local engraver to be rendered on copper plates for the printer. Experimental techniques included microscopy as an aid to illustration and dye injection to study blood flow in cerebral arteries. Dissection and experimental results were supplemented by case histories. Cerebri Anatome introduced the word “neurology,” and contained the first detailed description of the importance and function of the Circle of Willis, a circle of arteries at the base of the brain. It also introduced names for various parts of the brain that are still used today.

Willis’ other major works include Pathologiae Cerebri et Nervosi Generis Specimen (1667) containing the first descriptions of neurological disorders, including epilepsy and asthma, and De Anima Brutorum Quae Hominis Vitalis ac Sensitiva Est (1672),  in which Willis further explores the soul-brain connection through analysis of different nervous systems.


The Health Sciences Library’s copy of Cerebri Anatome is the octavo edition of 1664, bound in vellum with hand-lettered spine and red-sprinkled edges. It was given to the library by Dr. James J. Waring.


Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]


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Rare Book Profile: Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica.

Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1st edition: Basel : Johannes Oporinus, 1543; 2nd edition: Johannes Oporinus, 1555) marked the transition of the study of anatomy from medieval to modern.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) was born into a family of physicians and pharmacists in Brussels. He studied medicine in Louvain (Leuven) and Paris, and completed his degree in Padua, where he studied dissection. After receiving his degree in 1537 at the age of 22, he became a professor of anatomy at the University of Padua, where he built a reputation for his skill in dissection and for challenging the authority of Galen, the foundation of medical knowledge at the time. He also lectured at the universities at Bologna and Pisa. In 1538, he published a set of six anatomical broadsides, under the title Tabulae anatomicae sex. In 1542 he went to Venice to supervise the preparation of over 200 wood block illustrations for his book on anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. He moved to Basel with the blocks and his manuscript to oversee the publication of the Fabrica at the publishing firm of Johannes Oporinus in 1543.

Vesalius dedicated the Fabrica to Emperor Charles V, and an abridged edition, the Epitome, to the Emperor’s son, Philip II of Spain. Shortly after publication, he travelled to Mainz to present a copy of the Fabrica to the Emperor, and became the official physician to the court. When Charles V abdicated the Spanish throne in 1556, Vesalius was granted a lifetime pension and was made a count. In 1559, he moved to Madrid with his wife and daughter to become court physician to Philip II. In 1564, Vesalius’ family returned to Brussels while he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He died on the return voyage later that year on the Greek island of Zakynthos.

While the Fabrica was not the first anatomical work based on direct observation, its scope and the quality of the illustrations and typography made it hugely influential. Even the decorated initials of the chapter headings depict medical themes. While there is still debate as to the identity of the artist or artists, it is generally accepted that the studio of Titian was involved. The most iconic images in the Fabrica are the “muscle men” from book 2, a series of progressively dissected figures dramatically posed in a landscape. The background landscapes form a panoramic view of the Eugenean Hills, a resort area near Padua. A revised edition was published in 1555, and Vesalius worked to prepare a third edition which was never published.

The Health Sciences Library’s Rare Materials Collections contains both the first and second editions of De Humani Corporis Fabrica. The first edition is bound in black, yellow, and blue marbled paper-covered boards, with author and title hand-lettered on a plain white vellum spine. It has been damaged over the years, and has had extensive repairs made to the first and last few pages. The second edition of 1555 is in much better condition, and was bound in blind-tooled alum-tawed pigskin over wooden boards with brass clasps shortly after publication. The first edition was given to the library by Dr. James J. Waring, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The second was part of a purchase from the collection of anatomist and bibliophile Herbert McLean Evans in 1930 by a group including Dr. Waring, and presented to the Denver Medical Society. It came to the Health Sciences Library in 1982, when the Society dissolved its rare books collection.

Both editions will be on display on November 19, 2014 from noon to 2 p.m. in the 3rd-floor Reading Room of the Health Sciences Library as part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Vesalius’ birth. The library’s newly acquired 2014 translation of the Fabrica will also be on display. The featured speaker is Dr. Gabriel Finkelstein, Associate Professor in the Department of History at CU Denver, on Vesalius at 500. Dr. William Arend, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the School of Medicine Division of Rheumatology, will recognize Dr. Charley Smyth, in whose honor the translation was purchased. A reception will follow with refreshments, including birthday cake.

Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]


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