Anatomical atlas donated in honour of outgoing principal

This Tuesday, April 30th, at Osler, Principal Monroe-Blum was presented with a significant rare work donated in her honour. The Exposition anatomique de la structure du corps human by Jacques Fabien Gautier d’Agoty (1716-1785) was published in France in 1759. D’Agoty was an artist who trained in colour printing with Jacob Christoph Le Blon (1670-1741), a German painter and engraver who developed the technique of colour mezzotint printing. D’Agoty took on the difficult and elaborate project of printing a complete, life-sized anatomy in colour. The resulting book is an elephant folio with nineteen pages of text and twenty colour mezzotint plates.

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Mezzotint is an intaglio printing technique, meaning that a design is incised into a surface and the resulting image is created by the ink in the grooves. In mezzotint printing, the negative space in the image on the plate is roughened up and pitted with a tool called a rocker in order to achieve half-tones and shading. Le Blon’s colour mezzotint process involved making multiple engravings, one for each colour of ink, and then overlaying them. His original technique involved the use of red, blue, and yellow inks to create a range of colours and he later added a fourth layer of black.

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This copy of the Exposition anatomique now held at Osler is among only a handful of existing copies. Others are held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Edinburgh, among others. It is also the only known copy in Canada. The atlas was acquired thanks to several generous donors and presented in recognition of Professor Heather Munroe-Blum’s ten years as Principal and Vice-Chancellor.

Photos: Sabrina Hanna