he fame of Johan Remmelin (1583-1632) rests almost exclusively with the publication of his Catoptrum microcosmicum, probably the most extensive anatomical “flap book” ever produced. Remmelin was town physician in Ulm and later Augsberg where he also served as plague physician. While at Ulm, he conceived the notion of producing an anatomy that could be used to reveal in successive layers, the muscles, bones, and viscera of the human body. He employed one of the leading Augsburg artists, Lucas Kilian (1579-1637) to render the engravings which were based on Remmelin’s own drawings. In 1613, some of his friends had the copper plates engraved at their own expense and published them without Remmelin’s approval. In 1619, Remmelin published his own edition, complete with text and other explanatory material. This is the edition displayed here.

The work was printed using eight separate plates which were then cut apart and pasted together to make the three large plates. In some cases a single illustration may have as many as 15 successive layers which can be teased apart to reveal both surface and deep structures. In keeping with the practice of the day, Remmelin incorporates a variety of metaphysical and allegorical images and adages into the plates. The title, Catoptrum microcosmicum, [microcosmic mirror] reflects the classical notion of man as microcosm, i.e., the epitome, of the universe.

Catoptrum microcosmicum went through numerous editions and was published in Latin, German, French, English, and Dutch. The last edition was published in 1754. Although a highly popular work it was never practical as a teaching aid owing to the probable high cost of the book, its size, and the flaps themselves that were no doubt too delicate for use in a dissecting laboratory.

The Hardin Library’s copy of Catoptrum microcosmicum is notable for its binding which is made of vellum salvaged from an incunable which may have been published as early as 1470. Our investigation shows the binding to be a bifolium from an edition of the Constitutiones of Pope Clement V with surrounding commentary of Johannes Andraea. The parent work was printed in Mainz in either 1467 or 1471 by Peter Schoeffer, a younger colleague of Johannes Gutenberg and one of the first commercially successful printers in Europe.


Remmelin, Johann. Catoptrum microcosmicum, suis aere incisis vistionibus splendens, cum historia & pinace, de nouo prodit. Augustae Vindelicorum [Augsburg]: Typis Dauidis francki, 1619

Eimas, Richard. Heirs of Hippocrates. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1991.

Medicine & the Life Sciences, Catalogue fifteen, Jeremy Norman, San Francisco, 1985.

Hagelin, Ove. Rare and important medical books in the library of the Swedish Society of Medicine,Svenska Lakaresallskapet, Stockholm, 1989.

Needham, Paul (Princeton University). [e-mail correspondence to Edwin Holtum, 2003]