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New Acquisition: Bartolomeo Eustachi's 'Le Libellus de Dentibus'

Title page of Le Libellus de DentibusThe Becker Medical Library recently acquired an extremely rare first edition of Bartolomeo Eustachi’s Le Libellus de Dentibus. Although it was published by the Venetian printer Vincenzo Luchino as the second part of Eustachi’s composite work Opuscula Anatomica, the Dentibus bears its own separate title page dated 1563 and has its own pagination and signatures, indicating that it may have also been published separately.  The Becker Library copy was at one time owned by Nicolas Foucault of the Jesuit College of Paris, and is bound in eighteenth-century calf with gilt symbols on the spine.  It also contains contemporary marginalia.

Eustachi was born sometime between 1500 and 1510 in San Severino Marche, Italy.  He practiced medicine in his native region before serving as physician to the Duke of Urbino and Cardinal Guilio delle Rovere, with whom he went to Rome in 1549.  During his time in Rome he lectured at the Sapienza and performed dissections at the Santo Spirito and Consolazione hospitals.  While he remained a supporter of Galen throughout his life and was often critical of Vesalius, Eustachi was a keen observer of the human body and discovered the two adrenal glands above the kidneys as well as the connection between the tympanic cavity and the pharynx, which is now known as the Eustachian tube.  He created twenty-two copperplate illustrations based on his observations of the human body, which are notable for their straightforward, unadorned style.  Completed in 1552, if all forty-seven had been published in Eustachi’s lifetime he might have been remembered as an anatomist whose accomplishments equaled those of Vesalius.  Unfortunately, only eight plates were included in Eustachi’s 1564 Opuscula Anatomica, and the remaining plates were believed to be lost until they were found by the papal physician Giovanni Maria Lancisi.  He then published them in 1714 using his own text.

Page one of Le Libellus de DentibusEustachi is credited with being the first anatomist to study the teeth in detail.  He based his work on the dissection of fetuses and stillborn infants, and in the Dentibus he described the first and second dentitions, pointed out that the crowns of teeth were composed of two separate layers (enamel over dentin), and provided a clear description of the dental pulp and root canal.  He also set out to explain how teeth develop, and offered suggestions on how to treat various dental diseases.  The Becker Library is pleased to have acquired such an important work in the history of dentistry.



Moe, Harald.  The Art of Anatomical Illustration in the Renaissance and Baroque Periods.  Copenhagen: Rhodos International Science and Art Publishers, 1995.

Norman, Jeremy.  “The First State of Eustachius’s Opuscula anatomica.” Blog.  Jeremy Norman’s History of  November 5, 2010.  Web. 

Norman, Jeremy N., ed.  Morton’s Medical Bibliography: An Annotated Check-list of Texts Illustrating the History of Medicine (Garrison and Morton).  5th ed.  Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1991.  Entries 391, 3668.  

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