The first printing of the Surgery of al-Zahrawi, with important provenance

Abulcasis (Albucasis, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi) / Ali ibn Isa, Sharaf ad-Din, al-Kahhal / Guy de Chauliac. Cyrurgiua parva Guidonis. Cyrurgia Albucasis cum cauteriis at aliis instrumentis. Tractatus de oculis Jesu Hali. Tractatus de oculis Canamusali.

Venice, Bonetus Locatellus, for the heirs of Octavianus Scotus, 27 Jan. 1500/1501.

Folio (302 x 220 mm). 68 ff. Gothic letter, two columns, 65 lines plus headline. With 5- and 13-line white-on-black woodcut initials, numerous woodcut illustrations of surgical equipment, and woodcut printer's device beneath colophon. Contemporary vellum over carta rustica, lettered in manuscript on upper cover together with the name of the owner, Hieronymus Tattus. Stored in modern black cloth solander case with spine label.


The earliest printing of the Surgery of Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, a section of his great "Al-Tasrif": the "first rational, complete and illustrated treatise on surgery and surgical instruments. During the Middle Ages it was the leading textbook on surgery until superseded by Saliceto" (Garrison/M. 5550). This publication pre-dates by nearly two decades the first independent printing. It includes nearly 200 woodcut illustrations of surgical instruments, including a forceps for extracting a dead fetus - a device of the author's own invention, still in use in modified form.

Abu al-Qasim, hailed as the "father of modern surgery", specialized in curing disease by cauterization and designed several surgical devices. He described how to ligature blood vessels almost 600 years before Ambroise Paré and was also the first to describe a surgical procedure for ligating the temporal artery for migraine. His use of catgut for internal stitching is still practised in modern surgery.

Al-Qasim's treatise, by far the longest of the four contained in this volume, is accompanied by two ophthalmological works, the first by the tenth-century oculist 'Ali Ibn Isa of Baghdad, known as Haly Jesus in the Western tradition. In his principal work, "Kitab Tadhkirat al-kahhalin" (GAL S I, 884), which long remained the classical training manual for ophthalmologists, Ibn Isa describes 130 eye diseases and discusses 141 treatments. The Latin translation, available to Western medicine since the 13th century, continued in use by medical schools as late as the early 18th century.

The other work "De oculis", ascribed to Canamusali, is in fact a compilation by David Armenicus (Sack). Prefixed to these is the surgery treatise of Guy de Chauliac (Guido de Cauliaco), physician to several popes in Avignon in the 14th century and "the most eminent surgeon of his time" (Garrison/M. 5556). Locatellus had previously issued the text of Chauliac's treatise in 1498, after this highly important work had first been printed at Lyon in 1478.

A few small wormholes in gutter. Binding soiled and scraped at foot of upper cover, vellum covering shrunk and lacking two pairs of ties.

Provenance: owned by the 16th-century Milanese physician Girolamo Tattus, "vir ... in medicina facienda clarissimi nominis" (Della Torre di Rezzonico, Disquisitiones Plinianae II [Parma, 1767], p. 224), with his inscription on the title-page and upper cover, as well as several autograph annotations to the text. The son of Francesco Tatti, a member of the College of the Physicians of Milan, Girolamo flourished around 1570. His writings have remained unpublished (cf. Argelati, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Mediolanensium [Milan, 1745], col. 1821). He is known to have owned and annotated an illuminated manuscript of Pliny's "Naturalis Historiae", written by Hieronymus Baliocus of Novara in 1479 for Gian Matteo Bottigella of Pavia and his wife Bianca Visconti, later owned by Matteo Luigi Canonici (1727-1805) and acquired in 1817 by the Bodleian Library, Oxford (now Canon. Class. Lat. 295).

Extremely rare: this is the only copy ever to have appeared in the trade, sold at Sotheby's in 1988.

Hain 4810 (I). Copinger 1550. Goff G-564. GW 11707. Klebs 497.1. Essling 1247. Ohly-Sack 1330. Oates 2005. Bod-Inc. G-275. Sheppard 4244, 4245, 4246. Proctor 5100. BMC V, 453. BSB-Ink. G-430. Döring-Fuchs G-173. Wellcome 3017. Cf. DSB XIV, 585. GAL I, 239 (276), 24, no. 1.