The “Wound Man” in Two Recent Acquisitions

By Margaret Kaiser

The “wound man” was a most popular image, especially in early printed books. Pierced by a variety of weapons, he demonstrated the possible wounds and injuries a physician might be called on to treat. Two of the Library’s recent sixteenth century acquisitions have examples of the “wound man.”

The first is from Joannes de Ketham’s In disem biechlin find ma[n] gar ain schöne underwysung un[d] leer wie sich die Cyrurgici oder wundartz gegen ainen jeglichen verwundten menschen, Es sey mit schiessen, howen, stichen… [In this booklet one finds a nice instruction and teaching of how the surgeons or wound doctor towards any wounded person, be it with shots, strikes, slashes…], circa 1515.

Title page printed in red and black, with ornamental border; title above "wound man" illustration. The figure of a man whose body has been pierced by a variety of weapons swords, knives, arrows, and clubs. He is also being bitten by a dog, a scorpion, and a spider.This book is a very early edition of the translation into German of Ketham’s Fasciculus medicinae, a collection of medical texts, and the first printed book to contain anatomic illustrations. All of the editions of this work are of great importance not only because of the anatomical woodcuts but also because of the information they provide on the practice of medicine in medieval Europe. Ketham’s text is a collection of medical treatises covering various topics including the treatment of wounds and injuries, herbal remedies, bloodletting, and urology. This book contains 10 woodcut illustrations including the “wound man.” In this edition, the “wound man” is also being bitten by several animals including a dog, a scorpion, and a spider.

Joannes de Ketham was a German physician living in Italy at the end of the fifteenth century. Although little is known about him, many have identified him as Hans von Kirchheim of Swabia, an area of southwestern Germany. Kirchheim was a professor of medicine in Vienna and may have compiled the collection for the use of his students.

The second depiction of the “wound man” we acquired is from Hans von Gersdorff’s Feldtbüch der Wundartzney [Fieldbook of Surgery], ca. 1530. This book is an extremely rare edition of this early illustrated book on surgery. Although little is known of his early life, Gersdorff, a military surgeon for some forty years, was experienced in the care and treatment of battlefield injuries. The Feldtbüch der Wundartzney was written for military surgeons and contains information on amputation, gunshot wounds, and early anesthesia. In addition to the swords, knives, and arrows, this “wound man” also displays injuries from cannonballs.

The Feldbuch was first printed in 1517 in Strassburg and was based primarily on the works of Guy de Chauliac, one of the most important surgeons of the fourteenth century. This Augsburg edition contains 25 full-page illustrations which depict anatomy, operations, and surgical instruments, and 1 folded leaf depicting a skeleton. The woodcuts are attributed to Johann Ulrich Wechtlin. The book was very popular and went through many editions.

For questions about these titles, including how to consult them, please contact the History of Medicine Division Reference staff at hmdref@nlm.nih.gov

Margaret Kaiser is Acquisitions Librarian for the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Section in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.