Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae

Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae

Venice (Italy) — 1495

The first illustrated medical textbook in the history of printing: the influential text collection of Johannes de Ketham in an exceptional Venetian incunabulum with ten remarkable woodcuts

  1. Johannes de Ketham (c. 1415–1470) was a German physician from Kirchheim unter Teck who practiced in Vienna and was later a professor of medicine

  2. He first published the text collection *Fasciculus Medicinae* in 1491, which gives an insight into the medical knowledge of the Late Middle Ages

  3. The compiled treatises are accompanied by 10 full-page woodcuts visualizing the sick, carers, physicians and the human anatomy

Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae

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Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae

The Fasciculus Medicinae is not only one of the earliest printed medical books, but furthermore features 10 remarkable woodcuts that give an insight into body concepts and medical practice in the late Middle Ages. The full-page illustrations depict anatomical representations of human bodies, the treatment of the sick, as well as carers. They complement a collection of medical treatises by famous medieval physicians, who are also depicted as authors and teachers, writing on topics such as surgery, anatomy, childhood diseases, but also the plague. This compilation of texts was first published in 1491 by Johannes de Ketham (c. 1415–1470), a physician practicing in Vienna and later a professor of medicine, in order to make the collected medical knowledge available to a wider professional audience. The Latin work quickly became a veritable bestseller among physicians, leading to translations into Italian and Spanish within a few years and motivating numerous new editions. The second Latin edition of 1495 is also distinguished by the addition of a surgical treatise and more naturalistic woodcuts.

Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae

Johannes de Ketham (c. 1415–1470), born Johannes Kellner von Kirchheim, was a German physician from Kirchheim unter Teck who practiced in Vienna and later became a professor of medicine. It is assumed that he used the Fasciculus Medicinae himself and recommended it in his lectures, as it contains a number of medical treatises well-known among late medieval physicians. These were neither written by him nor did he compile them himself – de Ketham's merit lies in his editorship of the first printed and therefore much more accessible edition of the anthology, whose title means as much as "bundle of medicine".

Anatomy, Plague and Astrology

The compendium offers a remarkable insight into the medical practice of the 15th century by combining ancient and medieval traditions with Renaissance innovations. The treatises address central medical topics that preoccupied the physicians of the time – from the treatment of special diseases such as the plague and diagnostic procedures such as uroscopy, to which a woodcut is dedicated, through anatomy and gynecology to the astrologically correct execution of bloodletting. The treatises are attributed in the work itself to Petrus de Taussignano, Mundinus de Luzzi, Rhazes and Petrus de Montagnana. The latter appears with an explicit inscription on the first woodcut as a writing magister.

A bestseller of the late Middle Ages

The first edition of the Fasciculus Medicinae was published in 1491 by the brothers Giovanni and Gregorio Gregorius in Venice, who already had experience in printing medical incunabula. The work quickly became a bestseller and was not only reprinted in Latin, but also translated into Italian, Spanish and Dutch within a few years. In the around 30 years following its publication, no fewer than 20 new editions were printed. The presented edition of 1495 was also expanded to include a further surgical treatise and is characterized by even more naturalistic woodcuts.

Innovative woodcuts

The ten full-page woodcuts in the work are particularly remarkable: they illustrate the complex topics of the treatises with just a few lines. Particularly impressive are the images of human bodies, whose anatomy is astonishingly naturalistic and which immediately evoke associations with great Renaissance paintings and sculptures, as they also pick up on the ideal of beauty of the time. Some illustrations also show physiciansas teachers, anatomists and practitioners – as well as nurses treating the sick and following medical instructions.

A Glimpse into Medieval Body Images

The Fasciculus Medicinae provides us today with a significant insight into the body images and medical concepts of the Middle Ages through the combination of text and images. In the 15th century, man was still understood with unshakeable certainty as part of the divine world and thus as a microcosm in the macrocosm. Despite medical innovations and the first autopsies, the inside of the body was still a great mystery at this time, with female bodies being particularly taboo and stigmatized. It is therefore not surprising that physicians in the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance continued to follow the long-established doctrine of the four humors and astrological rules. Injuries, childhood diseases and the plague were considered particularly threatening at this time, which also reflects the circumstances of that era. The work is therefore an important testimony to late medieval medical history in every respect.


Size / Format
80 pages / 32.5 × 23.0 cm
10 full-page illustrations
Compendium of six different medical treastises
Johannes de Ketham (ca. 1415–1470) (publisher)
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Fasciculus Medicinae
Editions Medicina Rara – Stuttgart, 1975
Limited Edition: 2,800 copies (500 copies bound in full leather, 2,300 copies bound in half leather), special edition bound by hand
Detail Picture

Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae


Uroscopy – the analysis of urine – was considered to be a doctor’s most important diagnostic tool from antiquity to the early modern period. Medieval medical manuscripts often featured a so-called “urine wheel”, a diagram typically consisting of 20 flasks with different colored urine and the respective diagnoses. Furthermore, the most common depiction of a medieval doctor shows them holding a glass vessel full of urine up to the light. This woodcut, which appears before a page with a urine wheel, shows doctors dressed in the fashion of wealthy German Renaissance burghers debating the proper diagnosis of a urine sample.

Fasciculus Medicinae
Single Page

Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus Medicinae


Violation of the human body was forbidden both by Christianity and the pagan religions of antiquity that proceeded it. However, restrictions on dissecting human bodies for educational purposes began to be relaxed in the Late Middle Ages as the humanist principles of the Renaissance were also embraced by the practitioners of medical science.

Under the supervision of the medical professor who appears throughout the fine woodcuts of this codex, the corpse of a man is laid out on a table and a physician is depicted just as he is about to make the first incision to open up the chest cavity. Two other figures appear to be assisting in the procedure while the rest stand back, observe, and discuss among themselves as this revolutionary lecture is about to begin.

Fasciculus Medicinae
Facsimile Editions

#1 Fasciculus Medicinae

Editions Medicina Rara – Stuttgart, 1975

Publisher: Editions Medicina Rara – Stuttgart, 1975
Limited Edition: 2,800 copies (500 copies bound in full leather, 2,300 copies bound in half leather), special edition bound by hand
Binding: Blue half leather binding with gold embossing or black full leather binding with blind tooling. Facsimile comes in a slipcase.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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