In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Four Seasons of Human Life: Four Anonymous Engravings from the Trent Collection
  • Andrea Carlino
H. P. J. Horstmanshoff, A. M. Luyendijk-Elshout, and F. G. Schlesinger, eds., trans., and commentary. The Four Seasons of Human Life: Four Anonymous Engravings from the Trent Collection. Rotterdam: Erasmus Publishing; Durham, N.C.: Trent Collection, Duke University, 2002. 109 pp. Ill. €127.00 (90-5235-136-8).

After 1538 a number of editions of anatomical broadsheets were published all over Western Europe. Usually published in pairs, they comprised an image of the human body—constituted by a series of superimposed flaps pasted together—and a short text that could include a caption of the figure and/or a moral comment concerning anatomical knowledge, in relationship to the human fate and the glory of God. A late edition of this type of artifacts is the set of four engravings known as "The Four Seasons of Human Life" kept at Duke University Medical Center Library. This is one of the treasures of the Trent Collection, being the only extant copy of an extraordinary set of prints in which a vast amount of information concerning various aspects of the natural world (man and the body, animals, plants, continents, winds, the cosmos and planets, etc.) is epitomized and their intimate relationships spelled out. Although the quality of the prints is not outstanding from an art-historical point of view, they are nonetheless quite exceptional objects indeed. Their material construction from different layers of printed bits of paper, either illustrating the human body and its parts or abridging calendars, astrological, philosophical, and medical schemes, is impressive from a typographical as well as from a conceptual point of view.

This is the first attempt to offer an exhaustive scholarly presentation of these engravings, providing an accurate description and a careful analysis of the different iconographic, scientific, and philosophical—as it were—layers of knowledge displayed. It is the result of the collaboration of various scholars, all Dutch [End Page 889] and/or affiliated to Dutch universities, covering a wide range of expertise: from astrology to botany, from art history to anatomy, from history of ancient medicine to Neo-Latin literature and the history of printing and printmaking. The four prints are neatly reproduced in the second chapter, accompanied by a "diplomatic transcription," a reading text in Latin, and the English translation. Most of the text is composed of citations from the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, possibly taken from the translation by Johannes Heurnius published in Leiden in 1609. There are also unacknowledged borrowings from other writings of the Hippocratic Corpus, as well as from most of the authorities usually invoked in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century medical literature: Aristotle, Theophrastus, Galen, Celsus, and Pliny, as well as the Bible, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. The editors have also tracked down the possible sources used by the author(s) of the anatomical illustrations, from more obvious sixteenth-century books such as Vesalius's Fabrica or Rueff's midwifery handbook, to later illustrated treatises like Casserius's Pentaestheseion, Caspar Bauhin's Vivae imagines, or Plempius's popular book on surgery.

All this textual and visual material testifies to a rather conventional late-sixteenth- and seventeenth-century set of medical references—and yet these prints can hardly be defined as conventional. In fact (as the authors of the book suggest), the "Four Seasons" combine standard medical knowledge with what are usually considered more controversial philosophical and epistemological trends. "Hermetical ideas," "neo-Platonic and Gnostic influences," although ill-defined in the book (pp. 62-63), are to be found in the prints; but, more notably, the place attributed to astronomy and astrology is considerable. The fifth chapter—probably the most accomplished and informative of the entire book—is devoted to the analysis of these aspects of the engravings and it provides a useful account of the workings of celestial maps, horoscopes, and lunar and solar calendars in relation to medical theory and practice.

Despite the efforts of the authors of the book and the profusion of erudition that enabled them to establish textual sources and visual models, many questions—and some crucial ones—remain unanswered: Who is the author (or the authors) of the...