Jean Blondelet: Fascination with the Living Book

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Jean Blondelet was certainly the greatest collector of medical books in the 20th century, and the most discreet as well. The Jean Blondelet library fascinated on 31 May last year, and on 8 February this year it will fascinate again: an exciting collection running through the key moments of medical history, the first illustrations of human dissections, from the surgery of the wars of the Renaissance to controversies about the circulation of the blood and the functions of the brain, it was equally enchanting in the portrait of the collector who brought these books together. Each of these copies is an 'open book' about the personality of this bibliophile: Jean Blondelet brings the history of ancient medicine to life by looking for 'living' examples. For him, a book was more than a published copy. It was living testimony to the discovery set out in it, the vision of the patron who financed it, and often the courage of the printer who revealed it in words and images. Looking at each of these books, one question is enough, posed in all confidence: why did Jean Blondelet want to own this copy? 

Livres et Manuscrits
8 February | Paris

Jean Blondelet: Fascination with the Living Book

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    The printing press revealed the great discoveries of the researchers and doctors of the Renaissance and their students, their enormous and often forgotten attempts to create advances in medicine. At times considered controversial, these books come to us straight from history. Jean Blondelet always found the rarest copies and those most charged with meaning: the most fascinating.



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    Why did Jean Blondelet want to acquire the Libellus de dentibus by Eustachi from 1563? Because he found the copy that belonged to Urbain Hémard, the first French author of a work devoted to dentistry, which he in fact plagiarised from Eustachi.

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    Why did Jean Blondelet buy the little treatise De raris herbis written in 1555 by the great naturalist Conrad Gesner about 'lunar plants'?



    Because it is followed by the account of his climb of Mount Pilatus, the very first account of Alpinism, because it contains two other rare pieces about the mountain and because it was kept by the Commanderie des Antonins, the doctors attending to the plague victims of Troyes, whom they treated using medicinal plants.

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    Why did Jean Blondelet aquire the 1513 Rösslin in German, bound in half-calf over wooden boards? Because it is the first childbirth manual designed for midwives, the first used in the 16th century, and because very few copies have survived the era in a binding of the time.



     



    Why did Jean Blondelet want to own this manuscript by the philosopher Pomponazzi, a professor in Padua?



    Because it is one of the very first copies of his work, earlier than the printing of the treatise in 1556. It was followed by two manuscripts by anatomy students in Padua, one of them describing the dissections of the great Matteo Corti which the student witnessed. These three manuscripts bound in a single volume at the time are an extraordinary token of the education provided in Padua, the first medical university in the Renaissance. 



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    Why did Jean Blondelet buy Tagliacozzi's Chirurgia?



    Because it is the first manual of plastic surgery, which the author courageously printed in 1597 in spite of the prohibition on publishing on the subject, and because Jean Blondelet discovered one of the six known copies on very large, strong paper, still in its original binding. 



     

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    Why did Blondelet want to aquire the 1539 Epistola by Vesalius?



    Because it is his definitive treatise on the system of the veins, which led to spectacular scientific advances. He also owned another 1546 edition of Epistola by Vesalius, which marked the author's break with the medicine of antiquity. It is fully annotated in the margins by one of his supporters in the violent controversy between Vesalius and his former teacher, Jacques Dubois.

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    And why did Blondelet acquire this little 1559 edition of the Livre des subtilités by Jérôme Cardan? 



    Because he found a copy in splendidly gilt vellum, in exceptional condition for a medical book.



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    Why did Blondelet acquire the folio and quarto editions grouped into collections by Fabrici, Vesalius's pupil, who became a great anatomy teacher in Padua?



    Because Fabrici had them specifically printed in homogeneous formats for his pupils, and Jean Blondelet found two of these collections, still intact, including the folio edition in an armorial binding.



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    Why the Historia by Petrus Gyllius (Gilles d'Albi) published in 1533?



    Because the first edition includes ancient texts that had never been published before, in editio princeps, and because the copy belonged to Jean Boyer from Conques, who would certainly have known the author and who fully annotated and illustrated it with coloured inks.



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    Why did Blondelet buy the Mémoires de Chirurgie by Dominique Jean Larrey, Napoleon's surgeon on all his battlefields?



    Because it is the copy that Larrey gave to the Emperor's adopted son, Eugène de Beauharnais, the commander of the Italian Army.



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    And why Paracelsus?



    A doctor, alchemist and scientist, cursed by most people, Paracelsus was lucky enough to be recognised by a powerful patron, Maurice the Learned, Landgrave of Hesse. The publication of these works dates to 1589-1591, and Jean Blondelet found the copy preserved by his son Hermann, which is certainly the one left to him by Maurice the Learned.



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