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  • Anatomy and Anatomists in Early Modern Spain by Bjørn Okholm Skaarup
  • Robert Weston
Skaarup, Bjørn Okholm, Anatomy and Anatomists in Early Modern Spain (History of Medicine in Context), Farnham, Ashgate, 2015; hardback; pp. 298; 18 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £70.00; ISBN 9781472448262.

Skaarup's declared objective was to 'chart the development of late sixteenth-century anatomy in a particular, and largely ignored, national context and to trace the establishment of this discipline within various institutional [End Page 275] and regional settings' (p. 258). To this end, he has adopted 'a comparative geographical rather than a thematic approach' to the subject of the practices and publications of the principal anatomists in the Iberian Peninsula (p. 258). He has drawn on a range of documentary sources from the sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century. This work is a useful and well researched contribution towards making available the flourishing history of medicine in Spain to those who only read English.

The introduction covers the historiography of Skaarup's subject, and, includes a debate on the significance of Vesalius' De corporis humani fabrica to Spanish anatomy (pp. 9–29). The body of the text examines the history of anatomy involved in early modern Spain by considering the extent to which anatomy was practised at the principal Spanish universities of the period, Valencia, Salamanca, Valladolid, Alcalá de Henares, Barcelona, and Zaragoza. This geographical spread has been the model for his analysis. The principal anatomists and their publications are dealt with alongside detailed descriptions of how the subject of anatomy and its teaching was administered through statutes and structures within these institutions. Skaarup points out the differences that were consequential to those institutions which were controlled by the Crown and those by local administrations. He then extends the study beyond the universities through the evidence that anatomy was taught, and dissection practised, at the Hospital del Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and in a chapter that looks at anatomy in 'New Spain' — Mexico. The penultimate chapter is concerned with the production of anatomical images, many of which relied on those in Vesalius' De corporis humani fabrica, some even being direct copies. It is here that he acknowledges the influence of Italian artists in the creation of anatomical images presented in Spanish texts.

Throughout, Skaarup describes the roles played by Spanish anatomists involved in the advancement and decline of anatomical studies across the period of his research. Discussion around the disputes between opposing supporters of Vesalian and Galenical conclusions about human anatomy is a recurring theme. There is little mention of comparative anatomy, although animal dissections and vivisections clearly took place (for example p. 220), an omission which may reflect a lack of archival records. Restricted access to cadavers for dissection was at times a limiting factor in the teaching of anatomy in Spain, as was common in most European medical faculties in the sixteenth century.

Skaarup concludes with a summary of the arguments he has made, followed by an extensive bibliography. [End Page 276]

Robert Weston
The University of Western Australia


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