August 18, 2006
What is probably the most spectacular book in The University of Iowa Libraries is the exceedingly rare elephant-sized folio of hand-colored anatomical plates known as the Anatomia universa of Paolo Mascagni, an eighteenth-century Italian physician and teacher. So rare is this work that it is little known even to specialists, though it may be said that Mascagni’s atlas is to the field of human anatomy what the famous bird illustrations of Audubon are to the field of ornithology — most striking examples of applied art.
A gift from Dr. John Martin of Clarinda, Iowa, The University of Iowa’s copy of this masterpiece is in pristine condition, having remained until recently in the possession of the same Italian family since its publication more than 150 years ago. Comprised of two sets of 44 plates, this “book” is so large it has never been bound.
Until recently, the size of these magnificent prints has prevented them from being shown to the public as a set. Now, with the help and expertise of Conservator Gary Frost, they are mounted so that the entire set can be viewed at a glance while their safety remains assured. Digital images from this collection can be viewed here.