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COLUMBO, Matteo Realdo (ca 1510-1559). De re anatomica libri XV. Venice: Nicolò Bevilacqua, 1559.
COLUMBO, Matteo Realdo (ca 1510-1559). De re anatomica libri XV. Venice: Nicolò Bevilacqua, 1559.

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COLUMBO, Matteo Realdo (ca 1510-1559). De re anatomica libri XV. Venice: Nicolò Bevilacqua, 1559.

2o (311 x 218 mm). Full-page woodcut title showing a dissection, numerous woodcut initials, printer's woodcut device at end. (Some pale marginal dampstaining towards end.) 17th-century vellum over pasteboard (some light wear at extremities, a few occasional small stains). Provenance: M. de Campa (early ownership inscription on title).

FIRST EDITION, second issue, with the dedication to Pope Pius IV and the text reset on the following three pages. According to tradition, Columbo's De re anatomica was to have been illustrated by Michelangelo; however, Michelangelo left no drawings or any other evidence that he ever seriously considered the task, and we can only speculate as to what sort of artistic masterpiece might have been produced in such a collaboration. Instead Colombo's book was published without illustrations except for the woodcut title, which was directly inspired by that of Vesalius's Fabrica. The dangling right arm of the cadaver in the title-page woodcut recalls Donatello's bas-relief The Heart of the Miser.

Colombo is best known for his discovery of the pulmonary or lesser circulation, i.e., the passage of blood from the right cardiac ventricle to the left via the lungs. Although this discovery was first published in the Historia de la composicion del cuerpo humano (1556) by Colombo's friend and former pupil Valverde de Hamusco, the evidence in both Valverde's and Colombo's accounts indicates that the discovery was Colombo's, made through his vivisectional observations of the heart and pulmonary vessels. Colombo's account of the pulmonary circuit was preceded by that in Michael Servetus's Christianismi restitutio, and by the thirteenth-century account of the Arab ibn al-Nafis. However, these prior descriptions went undiscovered until the late seventeenth and early twentieth centuries, respectively; and there is no evidence that either was available to Colombo at the time. Colombo's observations of the heart also enabled him to gain a more correct understanding of the phases of the heartbeat, generally confused by his predecessors, who erroneously likened the heart's action to the expansive action of a bellows. Although overshadowed by his discovery of the pulmonary circulation, Colombo's observations of the heartbeat apparently directly inspired Harvey's vivisectional studies on the heart, which in turn led to his discovery of the greater circulation.

Colombo evidently died during the printing of his work, since in most copies his original dedication letter to Pope Paul IV (who also died while the work was in progress) has been replaced with a dedication to Pope Pius IV by Colombo's two sons, mentioning their father's recent demise. Adams C-2402. Garrison-Morton 378.1; Herrlinger, p. 167; Norman 501; Osler 897; Schultz, pp. 102-104.
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