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BERRETTINI, Pietro

Tabulae Anatomicae a Celeberrimo Pictore Petro Berrettino Cortonensi ...

Antonio de Rossi for Fausto Amidei, Rome, 1740
Folio (430 x 315 mm), contemporary vellum, lightly soiled, worn corners, endpapers browned and water lined. Title printed in red and black, with engraved vignette, pp. (4), 84, with 27 full page engraved anatomical plates by Luca Ciamberlano, woodcut initials and large tail-pieces, leaves on stubs. A few text leaves lightly browned or spotted, plate XVI with a light tear in lower margin just touching plate mark, repaired, occasional light finger-soiling in margins, otherwise a very good example.
FIRST EDITION of the ’27 anatomical copperplates after drawings by the most influential painter of the Italian Baroque movement, who also excelled as an architect’ (Garrison-Morton).

In about 1618 Pietro Berrettini, called ‘Pietro da Cortona’ (1596-1669) prepared a series of twenty anatomical drawings on grey paper. They were drawn in brown ink and black chalk, washed with blue, sepia and grey, and highlighted with white paint. These drawings may have been made from dissections at the Santo Spirito Hospital, possibly by a virtually unknown surgeon named Nicolas Larchee. Choulant-Frank identifies the original engraver of these plates as Luca Ciamberlano, whose initials appear on plates 1 and 4. The first plate shows traces of the date 1618 which has been erased. It is not known for which anatomist the plates were made. Why the drawings went unpublished at the time remains unknown.

‘There is no doubt that among Italian painters [Berrettini] must be considered the most influential personality of his generation… His attitudes as well as his forms of expression were in harmony both with the new sense of grandeur and richness of the contemporary Catholic world, and with the spirit of absolutism then establishing itself among the monarchs of Europe… Behind his formal eloquence there lies a sense of universal participation, a new vision of nature, that was one of the positive achievements of the Seicento. Pietro da Cortona changed the course of Italian painting markedly’ (Enc. World Art, with extensive bibliography).

The drawings deal chiefly with muscles, nerves and blood vessels, with a special emphasis placed on the nervous system. Nineteen of them depict male figures and one (plate XXVII here) a female. Inspired by his era’s preoccupation with the “golden age” of classical Greece and Rome, Berrettini made his anatomical figures noble and heroic reflecting his periods fascination with classicism. They are placed in dramatic attitudes amidst columns, plinths and arches derived from classical architecture. ‘Many of the dissected men hold oval or rectangular medallions-they look like framed mirrors-within which are drawn figures detailing the anatomy of various regions. Others have no accessory figures’ (Roberts & Tomlinson, p. 273). The first nineteen plates have a number of anatomic accessories taken from Vesalius, Casserius and others, executed by a different artist and engraver. The title page bears an engraving which includes among other subjects the transfusion of blood.

In 1741 Gaetano Petrioli, surgeon to Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia, published Berrettini’s plates for the first time. He had also come into possession of the famous Eustachian anatomical plates after their publication in 1714. Petrioli must have decided to publish the plates because of the high reputation of Berrettini’s art in the eighteenth century. Petrioli’s edition contained the original twenty plates (nos. I-XIX and XXVII) embellished with small anatomical figures plus seven others along with commentary supplied by Petrioli. As a supplement, to enhance the unity of Berrettini’s plates, Petrioli also had them embellished with numerous smaller anatomical figures taken from Vesalius, Valverde, and others, ‘engraved in an incongruous manner wherever there was sufficient space on the plate’ (Roberts & Tomlinson).

Berrettini’s original drawings were acquired by Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador to the King of Naples, and husband of Admiral Nelson’s mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton. In 1772 Hamilton presented them to William Hunter for inclusion in Hunter’s anatomical museum. They are now in the Hunterian Collection in the University of Glasgow Library.

Provenance: ‘AF’ bookplate pasted inside upper cover. Adams P-1925; Blake p. 42; Choulant-Frank, pp. 235-39; Christies New York ‘Anatomy as Art: The Dean Edell Collection’ 5 October 2007 lot 76; Garrison and Morton 395.2; Heirs 470; Norman, The Anatomical Plates of Pietro da Cortona (1986) (reproducing four of the original drawings); Roberts & Tomlinson, pp. 272-79; Sappol, Dream Anatomy p.9; Wellcome II, 146.
Stock number: 9106

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