Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Hippocrates; Galen: Works

Paris: 1639-1689

Sp Coll Hunterian Ch1. 1-9

This work probably belonged to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, (1619-1683), the French statesman hired by Cardinal Mazarin to look after his financial affairs. It is inscribed "Bibliotheca Colbertina" on each title page. The Bibliotheca Colbertina was the library owned successively by Jean Baptiste Colbert de Torcy, Jacques Nicolas Colbert, Archbishop of Rouen (1655-1707), and Charles Eleonor Colbert, Comte de Seignely (d.1747). The Colbert Library was sold in Paris in 1728 (See: " Bibliotheca Colbertina: seu catalogus librorum bibliothecae quae fuit primum J.B. demum Caroli-Leonorii Colbert". Paris: 1728). 

 Jean-Baptiste Colbert was the director of the French Royal Library (Bibliotheque du Roi) from 1661-1683; at some unknown point, some of the books from the Royal Library passed into his personal collection (possibly in 1671 when 1200 "duplicates" were removed from the Library). Colbert bound many of his volumes in his own stamped bindings. See examples of this in the Hunterian Collection. This particular volume of Colbert's however remained in its original binding and the coat-of-arms at the centre is not his.     

Before he died, Mazarin recommended Colbert to Louis XIV who made him comptroller general of finance in 1665. Colbert set up a system of accounting which kept the government within its income and aimed to make France economically self-sufficient. He encouraged the growth of industry through subsidies and tariff protection, regulated the qualities and prices of goods, initiated a road-building programme and restricted the use of natural resources. In 1669 he became Secretary of State for naval affairs, and developed a large navy. He also contributed to the splendour of Louis XIV's reign by being a great patron of the arts and sciences. He founded the Academy of Sciences and the Paris Observatory and promoted the French Academy. Colbert amassed a large personal library, later known as the Colbertine, which operated as a sort of national archive and library until ministerial archives were created at the end of the century.

This volume from Colbert's collection is an important text on Greek and Roman medicine. Hippocrates of Cos was a Greek philosopher who lived 460BC-377BC. His writings are evidence that Greek medicine had moved on from a world of magic and superstition, and that doctors were taught to observe the patient very carefully before making any diagnosis. Claudius Galen (AD 129-216) was the most famous doctor in the Roman Empire and served as physician to the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and Severus. His most important discovery was that the arteries carry blood, and not air. He was a prolific writer of nearly 500 treatises and his influence on medicine was incalculable for almost 15 centuries. Galen's most lasting technique was the taking of the pulse, still a routine medical procedure today.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert: Title page from Hippocrates; Galen: Works
Title page from Works of Hippocrates and Galen inscribed: Bibliotheca Colbertina.

Go to the next book in the exhibition, previously owned by: King Louis XIV of France.