‘A Muscle is the chief and Immediate Instrument of Spontanious Motion … A Muscle is composed of Membranes, Tendon, arteries, Veins, Nerves, to which some add Lymphe-ducts and Fat. Of These the two first are esteemed Proper Parts of It, the rest are counted Common’.
William Cowper, Myotomia reformata (London, 1694), pp 1-2.
Johann Vesling, Syntagma anatomicum (Padua, 1647), Tab. XVIII: arm musculature.
Vesalius’ depiction of muscles in his De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543), remained highly influential for more than a century but one of the first to introduce a new way of illustrating muscles was one of his successors who taught at Padua during the seventeenth century, the German anatomist Johann Vesling (1598–1649). In the above image, illustrated by Giovanni Georgi (fl. 1617–56), for Vesling’s illustrated 1647 edition of his Syntagma anatomicum, we can see the almost diagrammatic nature of Vesling’s depictions of muscles. The work was certainly popular and was translated into Dutch, English, German and Italian. Its English translator, the popular English physician Nicholas Culpeper (1616–54), drew specific attention to the quality of the illustrations in his 1653 translation entitled The anatomy of the body of man (London, 1653), when he proclaimed that Vesling’s illustrations ‘are performed very exactly, far exceeding any that ever were printed in the English Tongue, inferior to none in the world’. The above image detailed the muscles of the arm and hand, discussed in Vesling’s eighteenth chapter.
William Cowper, Myotomia reformata (London, 1694), Fig. 1: muscles of the face.
William Cowper (166/7–1710) was the author of one of the most celebrated works on musculature, the Myotomia reformata, printed at London in 1694 and later revised in an enlarged 1724 edition. Worth owned the first edition of 1694. It contained ten plates, based on Cowper’s own drawings, drawings which focused on areas which Cowper believed had not been adequately illustrated. Cowper, a renowned anatomist in his own right, is remembered also as the teacher of William Cheselden (1688–1752), whose famous Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones, printed at London in 1733, was published too late for inclusion in Worth’s Library (Worth died in the same year).
In his Myotomia reformata (London, 1694), Cowper not only described the muscles of the human body but also gave tips on how to dissect the body to better understand its musculature. Writing about the muscles of the face, he tells us that:
‘Of the Muscles of the Hairy-scalp, and Fore-head.
To Demonstrate these Muscles, the Following Method may be Observed; make Incision through the Common Integuments of the Head, the First and Direct Line of Division being continued from the Middle, and Inferior part of the Os Occipitis, to the same part of the Os Frontis; The other Transverse from Two Circular Ducts round each Ear, intersecting the Former on the Sinciput, begin from the Concourse of Angles, taking Care in Freeing the Fore-head not to Raise the Frontales’.
Johann [Jean] Bernouilli, De motu musculorum, de effervescentia, & fermentatione dissertationes physico-mechanicae (Venice, 1721), p. 20: table illustrative of Bernouilli’s mechanistic approach.
Johann [Jean] Bernoulli (1667–1748), was both a mathematician and a physician, who had studied medicine at the University of Basel. He and his brother Jakob (1654–1705), whom he succeeded as professor of mathematics at Basel, were both supporters of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1715), in the latter’s famous dispute with Isaac Newton (1642–1727) concerning the discovery of calculus. Given’s Worth’s fascination with all things Newtonian and mathematical, it is not surprising to find Bernoulli’s text in his library. Worth was clearly interested in iatro-mechanics and Bernoulli’s text was an important example of the genre.
As the title of the book suggests, it comprised of two texts which had formed the basis of Bernoulli’s medical dissertations at the University of Basel (in 1690 and 1694 respectively), for his doctorate in medicine. As Troels Kardel notes in his introduction to Paul Maquet’s edition and translation of the book, Bernoulli’s De motu musculorum was ‘the first application of differential calculus in biology’. Both dissertations had been reviewed in the Acta Eruditorum of Leipzig – indeed Leibniz had been responsible for the review of the work on fermentation. Bernouilli explains in the foreword to De motu musculorum that the work sought to use the differential calculus as a way of explaining the structure of muscles. As Kardel notes, the work attacked Nicholas Steno’s understanding of muscle movement and owed much to Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s De motu animalium (Rome, 1680), a text also owned by Worth.
Bernouilli made clear in debt to Borelli on the very first page, in which he outlined his aims, aims which, as shall be seen, differed markedly from anatomists such as Vesling and Cowper:
‘Pondering for a long time what part of the human body I should choose the functions of which could be explained at the very best by the laws of mechanics, I finally thought that the worthiest was that which is known by the name of muscles among the anatomists because of the nobility of the part itself as well as of the evidence of the mathematical demonstrations obtained from its inside geometry, which can strengthen all the theory which exists on the muscles. But it is not my intention to present here a special description and anatomy of muscles. This has assuredly been done more than enough by the most prestigious anatomists who have excelled in this century and do excel still now. And, if I wished, the scope of this short dissertation would not allow me to do it. It is our purpose to outline a general concept of the structure of the muscles as much as necessary properly to explain their mode of action and the resulting animal motions. In this matter we will follow the tracks of the incomparable gentleman Giovanni Alfonso Borelli by adopting his hypothesis. We shall, however, show that he applied this hypothesis too carelessly when he assigned a rhomboid shape to his small machines or vesicles of the muscular fibres. It will also appear that he attributed this shape for the sake of facility so as to compute by an easier calculation the relations of the dilating forces to the resistances, and also because he could not know the right and due shape (which we shall demonstrate must be circular because of the nature of the pressure of liquids) and the distending forces which result from that, without our new calculation called integral calculus which at that time was yet hidden by a thick fog, and the foundations of which we owe to the great geometrician Leibniz. We shall also present a curve, the abscissae of which will indicate the quantities of animal spirits spent or lost when the differential increases of resistance are set as ordinates. This Borelli did not touch even with the tip of his fingers. This will also offer us an opportunity of determining the degree of vigour and tiredness produced in the muscles’.
De motu musculorum was originally published by Bernouilli in an abridged form in the Acta Eruditorum in 1694. Worth owned a set of the Acta but he also bought the 1721 Venetian edition which included responses to the work in the prefatory material.
The influence of Vesalius’ muscle men didn’t remain in the two-dimensional world of books and anatomical atlases. Model makers and sculptors replicated the illustrations’ postures and physiognomy to varying degrees. This type of skinless figure that depicted musculature came to be called ‘écorché’, after the French word for ‘flayed’ or skinned. Écorché statues were of particular value in both medical and art education. The ‘Red Men’ models by the Leipzig-based Frans Joseph Steger company depicted below are two such examples. Cast in plaster and painted in saturated red and carmine for the musculature and white tendons and joints, the ‘Red Men’ are life size manifestations of that enduring legacy.
‘The Red Men’, Life-size plaster models of male human musculature, created in the style of Vesalius’s ‘Muscle Men’ drawings. Early 20th century. Courtesy of the Old Anatomy Museum, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
Similarly, this life-size model of the musculature of the upper limb could have emerged from the pages of Vesling’s The Anatomy of the Body of Man. Models such as this one were remarkably useful in showcasing typical muscle anatomy and were present in every medical school of the time. Although this example bears no maker’s mark, it is likely it was manufactured by Bock-Steger, one of the prominent model suppliers of the time.
Life-size plaster model of upper limb musculature, early 20th century. Courtesy of the Old Anatomy Museum, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
Osteological remains provided an organic alternative to models that were easier for students to handle than wet specimens. This human skull has been hand-painted to show the origin of facial muscle attachments in red and insertion locations in blue. Pasted labels denote the attachment points of each muscle. This format of denotation of muscular topography is still used today in anatomical education.
Cranium with hand-painted sections and paper labels to show the topography of facial muscle attachments. Early 20th century. Courtesy of the Old Anatomy Museum, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
While illustrations and models provided clear depictions of human anatomy, students and physicians were confronted with a more complicated reality on the hospital bed and the dissecting table. Even when the patients they treated or the cadavers they dissected were not affected by pathology or trauma, their bodies were as varied and individual as their faces. Often the variant anatomy was rare but benign, as in the case of this sternalis muscle dissected and prepared by Trinity’s Professor of Anatomy Daniel John Cunningham (1850-1909).
The sternalis is a thin band of muscle that rests in front of the pectoralis major muscle and runs parallel to the sternum. It is an anatomical variation estimated to be present in only 8% of the population. It was first described in 1604 by Cabrolius in Anatomes elenchus accuratissimus, Obs.8, p.96) and then expanded on in descriptions by Albinus (1726), Du Puy (1734), Kaau Boerhaave, and others. In 1867 English anatomist Sir William Turner (1832–1916) wrote the following in his essay ‘On the Musculus Sternalis ’:
‘Anatomists have noticed the occasional occurrence in the human body of a muscle situated on the anterior aspect of the thorax, superficial to the great pectoral muscle. By various writers it has been called ‘musculus sternalis,’ or ‘presternalis,’ or ‘rectus sternalis,’ or ‘sternalis brutorum,’ or ‘thoracicus.’ For several years I had seen occasional specimens of this muscle without keeping any record of their arrangement; but since the year 1858 I have preserved in my note-book a description, and had drawings made of the different examples which have occurred in the subjects received for dissection in the anatomical rooms of the University of Edinburgh.’
Cunningham followed Turner’s example and began recording the occurrences of this muscle at Trinity’s dissection hall. Based on his observations he produced a similarly titled essay in 1888 in which he posits that Turner is wrong and the sternalis is part of the pectoralis major and gives a detailed description of the muscles’ innervation, from his own dissections:
‘The strongest evidence in favour of regarding the musculus sternalis as being a piece of the pectoralis major is the fact that it receives its nerve of supply from one or other, or from both of the anterior thoracic nerves.
For four years I have kept a record of the different cases of this anomaly which have appeared in the dissecting room of Trinity College, Dublin, and I have carefully studied the nervous relationships which were presented by each’.
Dissection of chest musculature showing an occurrence of the sternalis muscle, preserved in alcohol. Prepared by Daniel John Cunningham, 1892. Courtesy of the Old Anatomy Museum, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
Through systematic study of such variations, anatomists like Turner and Cunningham contribute new insights to the field of anatomy, insights that shaped it and informed patient treatment.
Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, and Ms Evi Numen, the Curator of the Old Anatomy Museum, Trinity College Dublin.
Bernouilli, Johann, Paul Maquet, August Ziggelaar and Troels Kardel, ‘Dissertations: On the Mechanics of Effervescence and Fermentation and on the Mechanics of the Movement of the Muscles’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 87, No. 3 (1997), i-v+1-158.
Cornwall, John and Chris Smith, Anatomical models by F.J. Steger (1845-1938): the University of Otago Collection, Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand (2014) https://eurjanat.com/data/pdf/eja.140018jc.pdf
Cowper, William, Myotomia reformata (London, 1694).
Cowper, William, The anatomy of humane bodies, with figures drawn after the life by some of the best masters in Europe, and curiously engraven in one hundred and fourteen copper plates, illustrated with large explications, containing many new anatomical discoveries, and chirurgical observations: to which is added an introduction explaining the animal oeconomy, with a copious index (Oxford, 1698).
Cunningham, Daniel J., ‘The Musculus Sternalis’, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 22, Pt. 3 (1888), 1–407.
Cunningham, Daniel J., ‘The Significance of Anatomical Variations’, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 33, Pt. 1 (1898), 1-9.
Kornell, Monique, ‘Cowper [Cooper], William (1666/7–1710), surgeon and anatomist’, ODNB, 2004.
Kornell, Monique, ‘Drawing of William Cowper for his Myotomia reformata (London, 1724)’ Master Drawings, 57, no. 4 (2019) 489-510.
Lemire, M., ‘Representation of the Human Body: The Coloured Wax Anatomic Models of the 18th and 19th Centuries in the Revival of Medical Instruction’, Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy, 14, no. 4, (1992), 283–291.
Roberts, K.B., and J.D. W. Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Body. European Traditions of Anatomical Illustration, (Oxford, 1992).
Turner, William, ‘On the Musculus Sternalis,’ Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1, no. 2, (1867), 246–378.25.
Vesling, Johann, The Anatomy of the Body of Man, translated by Nicholas Culpeper (London, 1653). This translation is not in the Worth Library.
 Vesling, Johann, The Anatomy of the Body of Man (London, 1653), Sig. B2r.
 Cowper, William, Myotomia reformata (London, 1694), p. 40.
 Bernouilli, Johann, Paul Maquet, August Ziggelaar and Troels Kardel, ‘Dissertations: On the Mechanics of Effervescence and Fermentation and on the Mechanics of the Movement of the Muscles’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 87, No. 3 (1997), 1.
 Ibid., 102–5.
 Lemire, M., ‘Representation of the Human Body: the Coloured Wax Anatomic Models of the 18th and 19th Centuries in the Revival of Medical Instruction’, Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy, 14, no. 4 (1992), 283–291.
 Turner, William, ‘On the Musculus Sternalis’, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1, no. 2 (1867), 246–253, 378.25.
 Cunningham. Daniel J., ‘The Musculus Sternalis’, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 22, Pt. 3. (1888), 390.1–407.
 Cunningham, Daniel J., ‘The Significance of Anatomical Variations’, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 33, Pt. 1 (1898), 1-9.