Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

When I saw this image in the Vertical Files on Friday, I thought to myself: I've seen that image! That's Vesalius! Isn't it? Looks pretty similar to the portrait of Vesalius in the Fabrica .... But the caption below the portrait reads: Leandro da Ponte, Bildnis des Anatomen Bontius Leo.

This image had been filed in the Vertical Files under Leandro da Ponte. Well, it was pretty clear from the caption that da Ponte is the artist (one of the Bassanos, as it turns out). But who was this Bontius Leo? An odd name: maybe it was really Leo Bontius?

Ah, Google: so revered, so insidious--are you able to tell me anything about Bontius Leo? No, you aren't. However, the Library of Congress Authority Files, which list known name variants for thousands of authors, illustrators, and other creators, comes to the rescue: Bontius Leo, also known as Boncius, is mentioned in Girolamo Capivaccio's 1599 Medicina practica. Unfortunately, at the time that the cataloger established this authority for Leo, no further information about the anatomist was available in any of the standard reference sources (BN; Wellcome; Ferrari; Cosenza; BM; Renzi; Surg. Gen.’s cat.).

While Leo apparently hoped to become as famous as Vesalius, commissioning this look-alike portrait to instill the connection in the minds of viewers, he seems to have been forgotten. We will await the curious researcher, who can ferret out the details of Leo's life and truly compare his achievements with those of Vesalius....

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