The Vesalius Census


Essays on the Fabrica

Mutilated and Stamped

Mark Somos

The Fabrica has justly been famous since its first appearance for its stunning illustrations, including the famous series of the muscle and skeleton men. Unsurprisingly, these illustrations have sometimes been removed from the original copy and sold separately.

Even though this practice brings out the appreciation that owners and thieves had for the book’s aesthetics, dismembering the Fabrica is a dubious practice at best. It renders the book as a whole mutilated and far less useful. Looking at Fabricas in Rome, we noticed that some libraries, including the BNCF, the Angelica, and the Vatican, systematically stamp the muscle men in both the 1543 and 1555 editions, presumably to prevent or minimize the risk of excising and selling them. Indeed, the mutilated copy at the Josephinum in Vienna has every single page stamped, presumably to prevent further loss. We started adding this information to our catalogue entries.

It is entirely understandable that libraries stamp these illustrations to prevent loss, yet one could argue that these stamps also interfere with the appreciation of the illustrations themselves. In addition, given how common it is too see the phrase “eradicated library stamp” in copies of the Fabrica at auctions, one wonders if the stamping of pages serves as a useful deterrent against thieves. It would be interesting to see a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of this practice.

Daniel Margocsy