Anatomical atlases are illustrated maps of the human body and provide insight and knowledge for students and practitioners of the health sciences and fascination to the casual reader. Metal plate engraving, a 16th century printing innovation, allowed detailed drawings of the human body to be mass produced for anatomical atlases. The Historical Collections and Archives (HCA) has several atlases from the 18th and 19th centuries in our rare book collection, including Paolo Mascagni’s Vasorum Lymphaticorum Corporis Humani Historia et Echnographia, which was published in 1787.

Title page

Mascagni was a professor of anatomy in Italy and made several significant findings concerning the human lymphatic system. He discovered over half of the now known lymphatic vessels as documented in his Vasorum Lymphaticorum Corporis which was the first methodical description of the human lymphatic system. Mascagni also proved that the lymphatic system originates from internal cavities and external surfaces, and is related to the function of absorption.  He achieved his discoveries by using mercury as a contrast medium and injecting the mercury into a cadaver’s peripheral lymphatic vessel with a glass tube bent at 90 degrees on one end and tapered to a needle-like point.


Illustration of the instrument used to inject mercury

As with most medical books and anatomical atlases published in Europe before the 19th century, Vasorum Lymphaticorum Corporis is written in Latin, but the illustrations are works of art. Mascagni employed Ciro Santi of Bologna to illustrate the Vasorum Lymphaticorum Corporis. Santi not only drew the illustrations but he also engraved them on metal for the publication of the atlas.


If you would like to view this atlas or others, please contact me. Or take a peek at the Gravid Uterus exhibit case outside the HCA room; more information can be found in this blog post.

– Renée A. Sharrock, Curator

img_0876This month we are highlighting a recent addition to the Reese Room collection at Reese Library, Edmund Dulac’s Picture Book, published on behalf of the French Red Cross in 1916. The book features fairytales and songs from around the world, along with beautiful illustrations, but one of the most unique and interesting features of the book is the context in which it was created—as a fundraising effort for the Red Cross in France during WWI.  

 The volume was published by the Daily Telegraph in London, under the patronage of Queen Alexandra, who was married to King Edward VII. The front matter of the book plays upon a potential buyer’s conscience with such phrases as “There is not one penny that goes out of your pockets in this cause that does not bind France and Britain closer together. . . We do not beg, we insist, that these brave wounded men shall lack for nothing.” They ask the potential buyer of this book to imagine themselves “ill, wounded, sick, in a hospital, with the smash and shriek of the guns still dinning in your ears, and imagine the man or woman who would hold back their purse from you.”  

 And yet, despite the circumstances of the time and the coercive rhetoric the front matter uses to guilt buyers into purchasing the book, the proceeds of which went to the Red Cross in France, this piece features beautiful illustrations and imaginative stories for children in a time of upheaval and pain. While not one of the rarest books in our collection, this volume nevertheless stands out for both its aesthetic qualities and its place in the WWI era.  

-Kara Flynn, Special Collections Librarian 

About the Heritage Unit: The University Libraries have a department devoted to the preservation and archival keeping of the campus’ unique histories. The Historical Collections & Archives (HCA) is located on the 2nd floor of the Greenblatt Library on the Health Sciences campus. Special Collections & Institutional Archives is located on the 3rd floor of the Reese Library on the Summerville campus.