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Anatomy, Bloodletting and Emblems

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Interpreting the Title-Page of Nathaniel Highmore’s Disquisitio (1651)

image of Early Science and Medicine

The title-page of Nathaniel Highmore’s Disquisition on the Anatomy of the Human Body (1651) depicts mythological and historical characters, anatomical and medical symbols and embodiments of anatomy, contemplation and different forms of bloodletting. Seventy-five lines of free verse face the engraving and together with inscriptions help identify characters and themes in each scene. The verses begin with the charge to examine the title-page before proceeding, and this article explores what the picture teaches the reader. The emblem entices not only by what it heralds, but also by the complex enigmas it comprises, and interpreting it requires the reader to circulate between the picture, verses and the main text. This process instructs us in Highmore’s methods of investigation, his views on the relationship between anatomy and medicine, and his anatomical findings. In particular, it calls attention to his argument that the effectiveness of bloodletting can only be explained on the premise that blood circulates. 

Affiliations: 1: University of Cambridge


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