William Cowper T103

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The Anatomy of the Humane Bodies published in 1698 is both a seminal piece of medical literature and by way of the controversy it generated a fascinating illustration of an early international intellectual property dispute. It contains dozens of accomplished, intricate and sometimes even disturbing plates. Cowper was a renowned surgeon and anatomist practicing in London. He is famous for his early description of what is now known as Cowper’s Gland. He was admitted to the Company of Barber-Surgeons in 1691 and began practicing in the same year. By 1694 he had already published a number of works on anatomical research and discoveries and in the same year published Myotomia Reformata or A New Administration of the Muscles.He was elected to the Royal Society in 1696. Some have called Cowper’s Anatomy of the Humane Bodies one of the greatest acts of plagiarism in all of medical publishing. !n 1685, Govard Bidloo (1649-1713) published his Anatomia Humani Corporis in amsterdam using 105 beautiful plates drawn by Gerard de Lairesse (1640-1711) and engraved by Abraham Blooteling. A Dutch version was later printed in 1690 but when sales went poorly Bidloo’s publishers sold 300 copies of the unbound plates to William Cowper. Cowper proceeded to write a new English text to accompany the plates. He also commissioned 9 new plates drawn by Henry Cooke and engraved by Michiel van der Gucht among which were the front and back views of the entire musculature. The book was then published under Cowper’s name with no mention of Bidloo or Lairesse. A number of vitrioliexchanges took place between Bidloo and Cowper, including several pamphlets published in each anatomist’s defense. Cowper claimed, without much evidence presented, that the plates were not Bidloo’s at all, but that they were commissioned by Jan Swammerdam and that after his death Swammerdam’s widow had sold them to Bidloo. Whatever the truth may be, it is undeniable that Cowper was a great anatomist and surgeon in his own right – and that he clearly did not give Govard Bidloo credit for involvement in this work.

Dimensions 51 × 35 cm
Artist

Title

T103

Published

London

Date Published

1698

Condition

Good