Considered the most innovative medical thinker of the Renaissance period, Bartolomeo Eustachi did much to advance understanding of human anatomy, particularly the kidney, adrenal glands, auditory organ, venous system and teeth. His name is commemorated in one of his discoveries, the Eustachian tube, which connects the nose with the middle ear. By a historical fluke, however, his finest anatomical drawings were not published until one hundred and forty years after his death.
Eustachi's birthplace and date of birth are uncertain, but by 1540 he was practising medicine in the Ancona region of eastern Italy. He soon achieved such renown that members of the powerful della Rovere family, including the Duke of Urbino, sought him as their personal physician. In later years he taught anatomy at the Collegia della Sapienza (forerunner of the university of Rome). This academic position allowed him to obtain cadavers for dissection from Roman hospitals. He died in 1574.
In the early 1550s, with the assistance of a relative, Pier Matteo Pini, an artist based in Urbino, Eustachi prepared a series of forty-seven copperplate engravings of anatomical illustrations, intending to use them as part of a medical treatise. The publication did not eventuate. Eight of the plates were later used in Eustachi's 1564 book Opuscula anatomica. After Eustachi's death, his admirers searched in vain for the other thirty-nine plates.
It was not until the first decade of the seventeenth century that they were discovered in the possession of one of Pini's descendants. Pope Clement XI purchased them and presented them to his physician, Giovanni Maria Lancisi, who was also, like Eustachi, a professor of anatomy at the Sapienza. In 1714 Lancisi published the entire series of forty-seven engravings under the title Tabulae anatomicae Bartholomaei Eustachi quas a tenebris tandem vindicatas (Anatomical illustrations of Bartholomeo Eustachi rescued from obscurity). Eustachi's finely detailed studies of the abdominal structures, thorax, nervous system, vascular system, muscles and bones were belatedly recognised as the equal of those drawn by his great Belgian contemporary, Andreas Vesalius. Some modern commentators believe that Eustachi's illustrations surpass those of Vesalius in anatomical accuracy, if not in aesthetic appeal.
Esteemed throughout Europe, the Tabulae anatomicae was reprinted several times in the eighteenth century. The Library's copy of the rare Dutch edition of 1722 was donated by the distinguished Auckland art collector and medical practitioner Walter Auburn (1906-1979). A hand-written note on the title-page says that it was once part of ‘the Infirmary Library of Chester’. Opened in 1761, the Chester Infirmary was the main hospital in the Cheshire region for more than two hundred years.