Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Rarest, Most Beautiful Atlas of Obstetrics

by Stephen J. Gertz

One of six plates from:
Uteri praegnantis & ad partum maturi demonstrationes

London:  1757.

A copy of the first edition of the scarcest obstetrical atlas yet produced, and certainly one of the most beautiful, featuring six magnificent life-size plates by Jan van Rymsdyk for Charles Nicholas Jenty, has come to market. There are no copies recorded in COPAC, and OCLC notes only one copy in North America, at University of Texas

"Superb life-size mezzotints " (Garrison & Morton) are what make Uteri praegnantis & ad partum maturi demonstrationes (1757) so attractive, in spite of their graphic nature.

"The six beautiful plates of pregnancy and parturation made by Riemsdijk for Charles Nicolas Jenty (1757), of London, are rare examples of mezzotint, which was seldom used in medical illustration" (Garrison).

The first plate was actually drawn by Thomas Burgess and the remainder by Rymsdyk. The mezzotint engraving was done by Thomas Burgess (2), Edward Fisher (1), and Richard Purcell (3). Jenty chose mezzotinting because "this method is softer, and capable of exhibiting a nearer imitation of Nature."

"Charles Nicholas Jenty was an elusive eighteenth century character about whom little is known apart from his writings, and even these are rare. They seldom come on the book market, and few medical libraries possess copies. Not fully appreciated because of their rarity, they are outstanding examples of the arts of the craftsmen, and have also ensured that Jenty's name has not been completely forgotten" (Thornton, Jan van Rymsdyk Medical Artist of the Eighteenth Century).

Another plate from:
Uteri praegnantis & ad partum maturi demonstrationes
London:  1757.

Jan van Rymsdyk is generally known as the illustrator of obstetrician  William Smellie's Sett of Anatomical Tables (1754), and anatomist William Hunter's Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774), all of which were drawn about the same time but in the case of Hunter not published until much later. 

So rare is Uteri praegnantis & ad partum maturi demonstrationes that, with few exceptions, this work remains unnoticed by websites discussing Rymsdyk; it seems to be completely unknown to all  except dedicated scholars.

In 1758 Jenty issued an octavo volume with sixteen pages of text to accompany this atlas, under the  title, The Demonstrations of a Pregnant Uterus of a Woman at her Full Term. Both the atlas and the text are extremely rare, and absent from almost all medical libraries.

A German edition was issued in 1761 at Nuremberg, with the plates re-engraved, under the title, Demonstratio vteri praegnantis mulieris cum foetu ad partum maturi.

The two plates from Uteri praegnantis & ad partum maturi demonstrationes that illustrate this post make their debut on the Internet via Booktryst. They will likely be the only digital reproductions  of any of the six mezzotints for some time to come; the atlas is that scarce.

JENTY, Charles Nicholas. Uteri praegnantis & ad partum maturi demonstrationes.  London: [For the Author], 1757. Broadsheet (600 x 465 mm) comprised of six mezzotint engraved plates.

Garrison & Morton 6156.4. Russell 479. Waller 5152. Blocker, p. 211.

Images courtesy of William Patrick Watson Antiquarian Books,  who is offering the book, with our thanks.


  1. Those studies were clearly done from life, by a master of the highest order.


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