L.60 Drawings for an Anatomy Book to be Published in France


After mentioning the Pietà that Rosso made for Montmorency (P.23) and the miniatures that he executed for Francis I (L.52), Vasari (1568, II, 211; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 171) reported: “Fece app[re]sso un libro di notomie per farlo sta[m]pare in Fra[n]cia, del quale sono alcuni pezzi di sua ma[n]o nei [sic] n[ost]ro libro de’disegni” (see Wyatt, 1859, 359; and Kurz, 1937, 36).  This passage does not appear in the 1550 edition.

None of Rosso’s drawings for this book are known.  Two drawings in Edinburgh that have been associated with this project are certainly not by him (Fig.Edinburgh, D(NG)601 and Fig.Edinburgh, D(NG)601, verso).1  Domenico del Barbiere’s engraved Two Skeletons and Two Flayed Male Figures (Fig.RE.3) has been thought to be after a design by Rosso, and hence related to the anatomy drawings mentioned by Vasari.  But the style of Barbiere’s figures indicates that the engraving is of his own design.

As early as 1852, Choulant (1920 [1852], 152-155, 393) suggested that the woodcuts illustrating Charles Etienne’s De dissectione partium corporis humani published in Paris in Latin in 1545 (Fig.Etienne, 1545, Title Page) and in French in 1546 might be after drawings by Rosso.2  Choulant did not press his case and also suggested Jean Goujon.  The attribution to Rosso was not pursued by Kusenberg, 1931, 106, 204, n. 268, nor by Barocchi, 1950, 253, but was mentioned by Schlosser, 1924, 204-205 (Schlosser Magnino, 1956, 232-233, referring to Mathias Duval and E. Cuyer, Histoire de l’anatomie plastique, Paris, 1899, 89), which Kusenberg noted.  Brieger, 1938, 340, gave the designs to the School of Fontainebleau.  Bucci, 1969, 146-151, brought up the names of Jean Cousin, Jean Goujon, and Rosso as the author of the illustrations, and illustrated Rosso’s Moses Killing the Egyptian and Defending the Daughters of Jethro in this context (Fig.P.14a).

In 1955 Kellett commented that the long series of male dissection figures in Etienne’s book was based on drawings by Rosso, a thesis he elaborated in 1957 and 1958.3  Kellett recognized that the illustrations in Etienne’s De dissectione were not all in the same style.  Some of the plates of female figures in Book Three he saw were derived from the Loves of the Gods engraved by Caraglio from drawings by Rosso and Perino del Vaga.  Rosso’s figure of Proserpina (Fig.E.46a) was used in two of the plates on pages 260 and 281 (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 260 and Fig.Etienne, 1545, 281).  But what interested him most was the set of eight figures related to the illustrations in Giacomo Berengario de Carpi’s Commentaria…super anatomia Mundini, Bologna, 1521 (Fig.Berengario, 1521, f.82 verso and Fig.Berengario, 1521, f.520 recto), and the immediately following set of twenty-five plates showing young men hooked up on trees (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 168), leaning against rocks (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 175), set on architecture (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 208), and sprawling in great chairs (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 241).  Kellett added to these plates three from Jacques Kerver’s Les Figures et Portraicts des parties du corps humanin, published in Paris in 1557 and in 1575, that reused the plates of Etienne’s book with several other plates.4  Kellett believed that the Zodiac Man (Fig.Kerver, 1575, 2 verso) and the two plates of the Planet Man (Fig.Kerver, 1575, 3 recto), all bearing the date 1533, of Kerver’s book belonged with the other two groups.  Kellett concluded that the designs of the two sets and of the Zodiac Man and the Planet Man were based on drawings that Rosso had brought with him to France from Borgo Sansepolcro, where, according to Vasari, he had studied cadavers at the time that he was executing the Christ in Glory for Città di Castello in 1529 and 1530 (L.34).  He translated Vasari’s reference to “una bellissima notomia” that Rosso made in Borgo Sansepolcro as “fine anatomical studies” that formed a “book of anatomical studies” that he took to France.  Kellett (1955, 84) attempted partially to prove his case by comparing the plate of one of the brain figures on page 253 (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 253) with Rosso’s Narcissus engraved by Delaune (Fig.E.49), an argument accepted by Huard and Grmek, 1965, 7-8.  Paolo Galluzzi, in Corte, mare, mercanti, 1980, 178, no. 5.38, also saw the influence of Rosso’s drawings and pointed out specifically the Narcissus-like image.  At least in the case of the figure on page 253, Brown Butters and Elam, 1980, 362, accepted Rosso’s authorship.  Mayor, 1984, 50, 68, 94, 95, Fig. 63, also stated that Rosso brought an anatomical manuscript to France in the hopes of having it printed, and related the image on page 253 to the fallen figure in the foreground of Rosso’s Moses Killing the Egyptian and Defending the Daughters of Jethro (Fig.P.14d), a comparison already implied by Bucci in 1969 (see above).

Although she recognized the use of Rosso’s figure of Proserpina for the images on pages 260 and 281 of Etienne’s De dissectione of 1545 (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 260 and Fig.Etienne, 1545, 281), Kornell, 1989, 842-844, 847, did not accept that any of the other plates in this book were derived from designs by Rosso.5  She found neither the comparison with Rosso’s Narcissus nor with his Moses painting convincing evidence for the attribution of the image on page 253 to Rosso.  Nor did she accept the attribution to Rosso of the Zodiac Man or the two versions of the Planet Man in Kerver’s book of 1557.  Kornell also expressed the opinion that the “una bellissima notomia” that Vasari said Rosso made in Borgo Sansepolcro was most likely not a book of anatomy that he would seek to have published in France but instead a single drawing.  However, she did recognize that his study of cadavers, from which he would have made drawings, and the making of the single drawing in Borgo mentioned by Vasari “would have served him well for the later book on anatomy” that he would create in France (see L.34).6

Although it cannot be ruled out entirely that Rosso thought about producing a book of anatomy while he was still in Italy, Kornell is probably right in emphasizing that the drawings made specifically for an anatomy book that Vasari mentioned would seem to have been created in France in the 1530s.  It is the date of 1532 on two of the prints of the Berengario series and of 1533 on the plates of the Zodiac Man and the Planet Man that encouraged Kellett to believe that all the prints that he attributed to Rosso were done from drawings that he had brought from Italy.  The preface to Etienne’s book clearly indicates that it was completed up to the middle of the third book as early as 1539, that is while Rosso was still alive.  This means that all of the plates that Kellett attributed to Rosso were designed by that time.  Difficulties postponed the actual publication of the book until five years after Rosso’s death.

In looking at the woodcuts it is important to keep three things in mind.  First, they are somewhat crudely cut, by François Jollat, whose name and symbol appear on four of them.  Second, from the proportions of the figures and the foreshortening of various parts of them, the drawings on the blocks seem also to have been inept.  Last, all the plates, except possibly one (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 237), that present internal details show these details on inserts, suggesting, as Kellett already indicated, that the figures were originally conceived for a different kind of project.  These characteristics make it very difficult to read back to drawings of the figures on paper on which the woodcuts could have been based, drawings, furthermore, that may well not have had the settings and subsidiary details that appear in the plates, not to mention the internal dissections.

Taking all of these conditions into consideration, it is still impossible to see in the Berengario series any similarity to Rosso’s art.7  Nothing of the proportions of the figures, the description of their heads, hands, and feet, or their poses find any comparison in work by this artist.  The case is somewhat different with the second set of twenty-four young men hung up on trees, propped against walls, set up on architecture, placed in chairs, and posed in landscapes (see above).

However, this group is not homogenous.  The first seventeen, not counting the image on page 189 that belongs to the Berengario series, show slender young men variously presented in five different ways interspersed amongst themselves: hung up on trees (5), seated on a ruined wall (4), seated on a kind of altar or shrine (4), seated on architectural ruins (3), and seated in a large chair (1).8 The distinction between their presentations is not quite so clear as this listing of them may seem to indicate, for the altar and ruins and even the chair share characteristics.  The next set of seven forming the brain series show older and more muscular men.9  Of this group the first two figures in a landscape are stylistically similar in the simplicity of their forms and poses (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 236 and Fig.Etienne, 1545, 237).  The other five are pictorially the richest of all the plates in the poses of the figures, in the description of their external anatomy – only the tops or backs of their heads are cut open – and in their settings.

None of the subsidiary details of architecture and ornament in any of these prints, and this includes the Berengario series, show any resemblance whatsoever to what can be found in Rosso’s art.  Thus what has to be considered is the figures only on the assumption that the architecture and ornament, and the landscapes, were added by whoever prepared the figures for the prints.  The first two figures on pages 236 and 237 (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 236 and Fig.Etienne, 1545, 237) suggest, in the largeness of their forms and the clarity and even ease of their poses, contact with recent Roman art.  But otherwise there is nothing about them that specifically indicates Rosso.  It is only the last five on pages 239, 241, 242, 246, and 253 that might be associated more closely with Rosso’s art (Fig.Etienne, 1545, 239; Fig.Etienne, 1545, 241; Fig.Etienne, 1545, 242; Fig.Etienne, 1545, 246; Fig.Etienne, 1545, 253).  One sees certain correspondences, if not identity, with the various nudes that appear throughout the Gallery of Francis I.  As noted by Mayor, the figure on page 253 does recall one in the foreground of the Moses Killing the Egyptian and Defending the Daughters of Jethro.  Figures from the works he did in Rome are also comparable.  Therefore, it should be left open as a possibility, although I am not at all convinced that it is true, that these figures go back to drawings that Rosso made in France for a book of anatomy that he wished to have printed there.

Although Etienne’s book was published in 1545, it is known that all the plates here considered were prepared in 1539, and most likely in Paris.  Consequently, if, as Vasari says, Rosso was himself working on anatomical drawings to be printed as a book in France, it seems that he would have been aware of the preparations that were being made for Etienne’s publication in the 1530s.  Perhaps it was work on this book that prevented Rosso’s own from being published.  But it is also possible that Rosso’s work touched upon the conception of Etienne’s book that might imitate it in certain respects, perhaps even by using some of Rosso’s drawings.  Until more conclusive evidence to the contrary appears, it seems better to leave the matter thus rather than to exclude altogether the possibility that Rosso’s project had something bearing on what appears in this book.

There is still the matter of the three plates of 1533 in Kerver’s book of 1557.10  Of these only the plate of the Planet Man seen from the front on page 3 recto suggests Rosso at all (Fig.Kerver, 1575, 3 recto).  The muscular shoulders, arms, and legs recall those of the French Seated Male Nude (Fig.D.68a), although this kind of musculature can also be found earlier in his art, as in the Gods in Niches (E.26-45).  However, the surrounding figures of the planets do not look like Rosso at all, and thus if the main figure is his, it would have to be supposed that he did not intend it necessarily to be used to represent the Planet Man, nor for that matter to show the internal organs.  It is likely that Rosso’s book on anatomy was to be concerned only with skeletal and muscular structure without any consideration of the internal organs.11


1 Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, D(NG)601, recto and verso with a companion drawing in the Royal College of Physicians.  See Andrews, 1968, I, 110, II, Figs. 751-752; Ragghianti, 1972, 66, n. 18; and Ragghianti Collobi, 1974, I, 117-118 (the number given for the Royal College of Physicians’ drawing is given differently here), II, 199-200, Figs. 369-371.  Although Berenson (1938, 1961, no. 2393D) gave the recto of the National Gallery drawing to Rosso, Andrews correctly recognized that this was not the case.  He thought all the drawings were “nearer to the time and spirit of Alessandro Allori.”  Ragghianti associated the National Gallery drawings with Juste de Juste; Ragghianti Collobi attributed all of them to Rosso.  Kornell, 1989, 844-845, and Figs. 51-52, recognized that the recto of the National Gallery sheet was copied from a plate in Juan de Valverde’s La Anatomia del corpo umano published in Venice in 1586 or in the Latin edition of 1589.  She is certainly correct in dismissing all of these drawings from Rosso’s oeuvre, and she is probably correct in seeing the one figure copied from Juan del Valverde’s book, although I should like to feel more sure that this was the case rather than vice versa.

2 De dissectione partium corporis / humani libri tres, à Carolo Stephano, doctore Me.= / dico, editi. Unà cum figuris , & incisionum decla= / rationibus, à Stephano Riuerio Chirugo co[m]positis / Cum priuilegio / Parisiis / Apud. Simonem Colinaeum / 1545.  There is a French edition of the following year: La dissection des parties du corps / humain diuisee en trois liures, faictz par Charles Estienne / docteur en Medecine: auec les figures & declaratio[n] des in / cisions, composees par Estienne de la Riuiere Chirurgien. / Imprime a Paris, chez Simon de Colines, 1546, Auec priuilege du Roy.  All of the images used in this entry for the figures of the 1545 Latin edition of Etienne’s book are from the volume in the History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries, website (the smaller images), and from the Historical Anatomies on the Web Project, The History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.  There is also available a microfilm of the 1546 edition from The Army Medical Library, Washington, D.C., Acc. No. 6235.

3 See also Kellett’s text in Medical Illustrations and the School of Fontainebleau, exh. cat., King’s College, University of Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, 10th – 19th July 1957, On the occasion of the meeting of the British Medical Association.

4 Les / Figures et por- / traicts des parties du / corps humain. / A Paris. / Par Jaques Keruer, rue S. Jaques, à la Licorne. / 1557.  There is a second edition with the same title and the date 1575.

5 Kornell, 1989, 843, Fig. 48, shows page 281 (305 of the 1546 edition), Rosso’s figure reversed.  This page also appears in Bousquet, 1964, 247, with no reference to Rosso.  Page 260 (283 of the 1546 edition) shows only the legs and the upper part of the left arm used, in the same direction.

6 Kornell, 1989, 847, brought up “what nature of book Rosso was planning in France and at what kind of market it was to be aimed,” suggesting that it may have been a collaborative effort with Rosso providing the illustrations to a medical text, or a book of anatomy for artists.  This cannot be known for sure, but if the book was Rosso’s project, as the history of the study of anatomy within Rosso’s own career presented by Vasari and visible in Rosso’s work would seem to suggest, then most likely it was to be a book for artists, like the ones planned by Leonardo and Michelangelo, mentioned by Kornell.

7 On the following pages in the copy of the 1545 edition in the British Museum (C.112 n.7) and pages in brackets in the copy of the 1546 edition in the New York Academy of Medicine: 149 [151], 150 [152], signed and dated 1532, 151 [153], signed and dated 1532, 161 [168], 163 [171], 165 [174], 166 [175], 170 [179], and 189 [202].  The last was not included in this set by Kellett but this must have been an oversight as stylistically it is identical to the others in it.

8 In the editions of 1545 and 1546 (see preceding note) they are found on pages: 168 [177], 172 [181], 175 [185], 180 [191], 190 [203], 196 [210], 202 [216 but numbered 194], 205 [219], 208 [223], 210 [225], 213 [228], 218 [235], 221 [238], 224 [241], 228 [246], 229 [247], and 230 [248].  Kellett included page 189 [202] in this set but clearly it belongs to the Berengario set.

9 In the 1545 and 1546 editions (see note 7), pages 236 [255], 237 [256], 239 [258], 241 [261], 242 [262], 246 [266], and 253 [275].  Kellett included page 250 [271] but the figure here is derived from Perino’s Mars and Venus engraved by Caraglio (see Kornell, 1989, 843, Figs. 49-50, 844).

10 See note 4.  The pages are unnumbered.  The Zodiac Man is on page 2 verso, the Planet Man on page 3 recto (front view) and page 3 verso (back view).

11 On the interest in anatomy at the time in relation to Domenico del Barbiere’s Two Skeletons and Two Flayed Male Figures (RE.3), see Wardropper, 1985, 56-60.  Kornell, 1989, 847, and n. 44, speculates on the kind of book Rosso planned, whether a medical book for which he would have done illustrations of a text by someone else, or a book of anatomy for artists by Rosso alone.