Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Jean-Louis Petit

Jean Louis Petit
(1674 – 1750)

French surgeon and anatomist, Jean Louis Petit was born in Paris in on March 13, 1674.  His family rented an apartment at his house to Alexis Littre (1658 – 1726), a French anatomist. Petit became an apprentice of Littre at seven years of age, helping him in the dissections for his lectures and at an early age became the assistant in charge of the anatomic amphitheater.

Because of Petit’s dedication to anatomy and medicine, in 1690 at the age of sixteen, became a disciple of a famous Paris surgeon, Castel.

In 1692, Petit entered the French army and performed surgery in two military campaigns. By 1693 he started delivering lectures and was accepted as a great surgeon, being invited to the most difficult operations.  In 1700 he was appointed Chief Surgeon of the Military School in Paris and in the same year he received the degree of Master of Surgery from the Faculty of Paris.

In 1715 he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London. He was appointed by the King as the first Director General of the Royal Academy of Surgery when it was founded in 1731.

Petit’s written works are of historical importance.  “Traite des Maladies des Os” ( A Treatise on Bone Diseases);  “Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operation” (A Treatise on Surgical Diseases and their Operations” This last book was published posthumously in 1774. He also published a monograph on hemorrhage, another on lachrymal fistula, and others.

He was one of the first to perform choIecystotomy and mastoidotomy. His original tourniquet design for amputations saved many in the battlefield and the design of the same surgical instrument today has not changed much since its invention by him.

His name is remembered in the lumbar triangle, also called the "triangle of Petit", and the abdominal hernia that can ensue through that area of weakness, the lumbar hernia or "Petit's hernia".

1. “Jean Louis Petit – A Sketch of his Life, Character, and Writings” Hayne, AP San Fran Western Lancet 1875 4: 446-454
2. “Oeuvres compl?tes de Jean-Louis Petit” 1837 Imprimerie de F. Chapoulaud
3. Extraits de l'eloge de Jean-Louis Petit Ius dans Ia seance publique de I' Academie royale de chirurgie du 26 mai 1750” Louis A. Chirurgie 2001: 126 : 475- 81

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Another Vesaliana great find is now in my office

1543 Fabrica Title Page
1543 Fabrica Title Page

One of the most collectible books in medical sciences and specifically in human anatomy is “De Humani Corporis Fabrica; Libri Septem” (Seven books on the structure of the Human Body) published in 1543 by Andreas Vesalius. This book is known as the “Fabrica” among Vesaliana enthusiasts.

The story of the Fabrica is complicated and the books, research papers, paintings, statues, medals, etc. on Vesalius and the Fabrica number in the thousands.

The first edition of the Fabrica was published in 1543, it was well received and was followed by the second edition in 1555. Vesalius died in 1560 and no further editions of the Fabrica were published. There are several translations in different languages, the latest is the “New Fabrica” published in 2013. This book included annotations by Vesalius himself found in a 1555 Fabrica. This particular “Annotated Fabrica” has a history worth reading and is one of the most expensive books ever sold at an auction in February 2024 for 2.23 million US dollars.

Part of book collectibles are single pages cut off a book. This method was quite common among antiquarians in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. As a book collector, I think it is not a good idea to destroy a great book in the quest to obtain more money selling it as individual pages.

Be that as it may, in early 2023 I was notified by my good friend Dr. Randall Wolf, one of the contributors of Clinical Anatomy Associates, of an auction by Potter and Potter where two pages of the 1543 Fabrica would be placed on the block. With his help and lots of luck, I was able to secure item 298, which was a single page of the Fabrica, page 187, one of the “muscle men”, which depicts the “Liber II, Sexta Musculorum Tabula” (Book 2, Sixth Muscle Image).

Potter and Potter Auctions June 2023Cover page of the June 2023 Potter&Potter Auction

Potterandpotter187 smItem 298 description

One of the problems that collectors face is to prove that a certain item is original, the second one is provenance (where does the item come from?).

The first question was answered in Belgium when Dr. Wolf and I visited Dr. Francis Van Glabbeek and his personal collection in June 2023 with occasion of the 2023 Vesalius Triennial Meeting in the city of Antwerp. We were able to compare in minute detail the original image and my single page, including the type of paper and the text on the opposite page. They were a perfect match, proving that this page was indeed taken of an original 1543 Fabrica.

Reviewing the 1543 Fabrica with Drs. Wolf and Van GlabbeekStudying page 187

Getting goosebumps...
Getting goosebumps...

Reviewing the 1543 Fabrica with Drs. Wolf and Van GlabbeekLooking at details...


Confirmed!! It is an original 1543 page!

The second question was answered by the auctioneer, as the page belonged to the library of Ronald K. Siegel, PH.D. (1943-2019), an American psychopharmacologist and associate research professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Before Dr. Siegel, we do not know how or when he acquired this single leaf of the Fabrica.

The page was carefully framed by Becky Gebhart, owner of “Picture This” in Lebanon, OH, and is secured with museum-quality glass. It in now on the wall facing my desk. Here it is:

Page 187 of the 1534 Fabrica