Johannes de Ketham

JOHANNES DE KETHAM

FASCICULUS MEDICINAE, 1513

AN ILLUSTRATED COMPILATION

The work is known under the short title of "Fasciculus Medicinae", which means "bundle of medicine". This is a very early medical compilation comprised of different essays. The first edition and this one were published by the brothers Giovanni and Gregorio Gregorius in Venice, who had already printed two medical works previously.

The essays look at central themes of late medieval medicine.They provide information about diagnostic procedures such as uroscopy and knowledge of the anatomy and gynaecology, treatment such as bloodletting in accordance with astrological rules, the treatment of certain diseases such as the plague, and caring for wounds.

A distinctive feature of the Fasciculus is the rich, colourful imagery: It includes ten high-quality woodcuts that were created as woodcut profiles like drawings. Previously only two medical illustrations had been published: An illustration of the three brain ventricles in "Philosophia naturalis" (Brescia 1490) and a bloodletting diagram in a Flemish collection of surgical texts (Löwen 1481).

The essays were not unknown as manuscripts but were difficult to access. As printed products cost a lot of money, physicians were keen to purchase a collection of different important texts in one single volume. The demand for the publication after it first went into circulation as an incunabulum in 1491 was so high that 20 reprints were published over the next 30 years or so.

A MYSTERIOUS PUBLISHER

Johannes de Ketham (approx. 1415–1470) was neither the author nor the collector of the texts, but rather the publisher. He probably owned one of the manuscripts that he used as a template for printing. Little is known about Ketham himself. It is assumed that he came into the world as Hans Kellner of Kirchheim in Kirchheim unter Teck around 1415 . He later emerges as a professor of medicine in Vienna, where he possibly used and recommended the compilation of texts for his lectures. He supposedly practised as a doctor, was involved in political discussions and died in Ofen in 1470.

The side with the first woodcut includes the name Petrus de Montagnana, professor of surgery in Padua. Otherwise the following are mentioned: Petrus de Taussignano as author of a plague tract, Mundinus de Luzzi an anatomist from Bologna who created the first manuscript containing practical dissecting exercises for his students  in 1316 , as well as Rhazes, a doctor and philosopher in Persia in the 9th and 10th centuries, one of the most renowned Arabian physicians as author of an essay on childhood illnesses. The name Ketham features alongside the description stating that the compiled essays are from renowned physicians

A LONG SELLER FROM THE LATE MIDDLE AGES

This work refers to a text collection containing two medieval transcripts. The manuscripts were first published as an incunabulum in 1491. Up until that point, calendars and single-page documents with medical explanations had been published, but no illustrated books. Within a few years, several editions emerged with translations into various European languages.

Ketham did not describe himself as a "Medicus" but rather as a "Dominus Alamanus". He therefore did not join the ranks of the famous authors, but rather published the texts. The Fasciculus follows the tradition of scholasticism, the forwarding of knowledge content without reviewing said knowledge independently.

However, the woodcuts were innovative at the time. The artists sketched the complex drawings in linear form onto the wooden printing block. Then the printing block was dyed so that the lines were filled with ink and pressed onto paper. The flat image compositions are impressive since they feature many details and are finely elaborated.

INSIGHTS INTO MEDIEVAL BODY IMAGES

The Fasciculus provides an opportunity to become familiar with the body and medical concepts of the Middle Ages. Mankind was perceived as part of the divine world, a microcosmos in the macrocosmos of the universe.

There were few trained doctors during the Middle Ages as there were only a limited number of universities. They introduce themselves in text and image as teachers, anatomists and attending physicians. The woodcuts also illustrate patients and carers who are following the instructions of their doctor. The emergence and treatment of illnesses centred around the Doctrine of the Four Juices (humoral pathology), which depended on the signs of the zodiac and the seasons. Bloodletting had to be done at the right time and on the relevant parts of the body. The inside of the body was largely unknown despite the high number of deaths, and knowledge of the female body was even tabooed as secret. The Fasciculus looks in detail at injuries, childhood illnesses and the plague, which were all considered a real danger.

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