Aselli, Gaspare (1581-1625). De lactibus Siue lacteis venis...Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627.

Aselli, Gaspare (1581-1625). De lactibus Siue lacteis venis...Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627.

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Aselli, Gaspare (1581-1625).

De lactibus Siue lacteis venis quarto vasorum mesaraicorum genere Nouo Inuento... dissertatio.... 

Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627.

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The first publication to use colored illustrations in the service of scientific clarity

— Norman —

Aselli, Gaspare (1581-1625).

De lactibus Siue lacteis venis quarto vasorum mesaraicorum genere Nouo Inuento... dissertatio.... Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627.

4° (218x176 mm). Collation: †4, 22, A-K4, 34. [12], 79, [9] pages. Roman and italic type. Additional engraved title-page within an elaborate border, and extra author's portrait, both executed by Cesare Bassano. Four chiaroscuro woodcut folding plates printed in black, dark red and light red, usually attributed to Cesare Bassano and Domenico Falcini. Contemporary vellum, over pasteboards. Ink title on spine. Lower corners and lower edge of the covers slightly worn and rubbed, few wormholes to the spine. A very good copy. Small stain in the upper margin of the title-page, skilfully repaired wormholes on the rear pastedown and flyleaves, one of which also affects the final plate, old reinforcing strips on the verso of some plates along the folds.

Provenance: the physician from Mantua Giuseppe Perego (ownership inscription on the front flyleaf, dated 1651); the renowned physician Luigi Francesco Castellani, born in Sermide, near Mantua (1727-1794; ownership inscription on the front flyleaf, dated 1752).

The first scientific study of the lymphatic system and the first book with anatomical illustrations printed in colour, in a fine copy in its original binding.

A Cremona-born professor of anatomy working in Pavia, Aselli discovered the lymphatic vessels of the small intestine (which absorb digested fats and control their entry into the lymphatic system) while engaged with experimental research, and called them 'lacteas, sive albas venas', owing to the fact that, if incised, these vellels released a fluid similar to milk. “In 1622, while performing vivisection on a dog, Aselli chanced upon the lacteal vessels. His De lactibus is a landmark in the history of anatomical illustration: it may well be the first publication to use colored illustrations in the service of scientific clarity” (Norman 76). The book was published posthumously, thanks to the efforts of the great patron of arts and science Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), and dedicated to the Senate of Milan by Alessandro Tadini and Ludovico Settala.

The four chiaroscuro woodcut plates included in the publication are of the greatest importance in the history of scientific illustration. These are the first coloured anatomical illustrations ever printed. They use three colours – black, dark red, and light red – along with the natural white of the paper to distinguish the different types of vessels. The plates have been attributed to the outstanding Milanese engraver Cesare Bassano (1584-1648) and to his associate Domenico Falcini (1575-ca. 1632). Preparatory drawings and proofs for the plates are preserved at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.

The present copy was owned, over the centuries, by two Italian physicians. The earliest, and nearly contemporary owner was Giuseppe Perego, who was active in Mantua in the second half of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, the volume belonged to another well-known Mantuan physician, Luigi Francesco Castellani, who was the first to practice the inoculation of smallpox and wrote about the unhealthiness of rice fields and the non-contagious nature of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Aselli's De lactibus sive lacteis venis is an extremely rare book on the market, with only three copies having been sold at auction over the past fifty years.

STC 17th Century, p. 52; Choulant-Frank, p. 241; Cushing A-279; Garrison-Morton 1094; Heirs of Hippocrates  453; Lilly Library, Notable Medical Books 61; Norman 76; Osler 1846; Waller 502; Wellcome 6837; M. Grimm - C. Kleine-Tebbe - A. Stijnman (eds.), Lichtspiel und Farbenpracht. Entwicklungen des Farbdrucks 1500-1800. Aus den Beständen der Herzog August Bibliothek, no. 23; E. Savage, “Colour Printing in Relief before c. 1700. A Technical History”, A. Stijnman - E. Savage (eds.), Printing Colour 1400-1700: History, Techniques, Functions and Receptions, Leiden 2015, p. 35; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 192.


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