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Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany

Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Hum
Sachiko Kusukawa
University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 331 pp., $45.00

Readers today tend to expect images to accompany written text of scientific literature, but the distinguished scholar Sachiko Kusukawa tells how the study of medicine, which included medical botany and human anatomy, was enhanced by the introduction of illustrations with the printed content during the Renaissance. This occurred at a time when there was significant expansion of educational institutions (botanical gardens and anatomical theaters) and advances in printing processes. She focuses on two important works, De historia stirpium (On the History of Plants, 1542) by Leonhart Fuchs, and De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body, 1543) by Andreas Vesalius, to demonstrate the importance of newly introduced pictorial practices. She notes that using just a few books allowed her to examine closely “the specific ways in which pictures became integral to the object, method, and authority of scholarly knowledge about nature in the sixteenth century.” These authors were the first to write about the usefulness of pictures as an educational tool when combined with descriptive passages. Her insights into Renaissance scholarship are enlightening. Certainly, there are parallels to modern introductions of digital communication tools in all their various forms, and their use by scholars.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden