Estienne (Stephanus), Charles

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Estienne (Stephanus), Charles

(b. Paris, France, ca. 1505; d. Paris, 1564)

anatomy, natural history, scientific publication.

The son of Henri I Estienne and younger brother of François and Robert I, Charles belonged to the famous dynasty of Parisian printers and publishers. His father died in 1520, and his mother married Simon de Colines, another printer, who was later to publish Estienne’s anatomical atlas. After learning Greek under Jean Lascaris, he extended his knowledge of classical philology at the University of Padua. While in Italy (1530–1534) he became interested in botany, horticulture, and medicine. After returning to Paris he followed the extracurricular courses (courslibres) in anatomy and medicine given by Jacques Dubois (Sylvius) at the Colléege de Tréguier. His literary activity started in 1535 with three abstracts based on the works of the diplomat Lazare de Baïf. Estienne then published several treatises on gardening and the names of plants and birds. De re hortensi libellus (1535) and Seminarium (1536) were favorably received and republished. In these books Estienne showed himself to be a scholar of importance but a mediocre naturalist in sacrificing observation to history and philology.

In 1536 Charles Estienne had printed by his brother a short treatise entitled Anatomia. (This volume is listed in the Estienne firm’s catalogues, but no copy seems to have survived.) Around 1538 Estienne married Geneviéve de Verley, daughter of Gilles de Verley, surgeon to the king. Estienne was at the time studying medicine but without being formally registered at the Faculté de Médecine. However, the faculty recognized his diligence, and in 1540 he received the degree of bachelor; on 20 June 1542 he was promoted to docteur régent. From then on he seems to have devoted himself to the practice of medicine. He taught anatomy from 1544 to 1547 at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris, where he was given the title of lector ordinarius. During this period the Latin and French editions of his manual of anatomy were published, although much of this work had been drafted before 1539. In November 1550 Estienne brought out a treatise on diet and a classification of foods, dedicated to the inquisitor Guillaume de Bailly. (This dedication is more easily understood in light of the dangers that threatened the Estienne publishing house; earlier that year Robert, accused of Protestantism, had been obliged to seek refuge in Geneva.) Charles Estienne then gave up his medical practice in order to manage the family business. He printed Belon’s zoological treatise, and edited several dictionaries, geographical guides, and works in classical philology, grammar, and history. He translated into French the treatise of Vegetius on the diseases of horses and also wrote a rural encyclopedia (Praedium rusticum, 1554), which when revised by his son-in-law, Jean Liébault, had tremendous success in the book trade. Nevertheless, Estienne was a poor businessman. Accused of having squandered the inheritance of Robert’s children and heavily in debt, he was imprisoned in 1561 at the Châtelet, where he spent the last four years of his life.

Estienne’s main scientific work, De dissectione partium corporis humani (1545), poses a particular problem: although it was published two years after the Fabrica of Vesalius, it antedates it in actual composition. Estienne worked it out in collaboration with the surgeon Estienne de la Riviére (Riverius), who had probably done some dissection and also helped in preparing the plates. Estienne first used woodcuts executed by Jollat and stored in his father-in-law’s office (four plates are dated from 1530 to 1532); he then used various erotic engravings—among others—and inserted a special section that included internal anatomical details; finally (from 1534 to 1539), he had some original anatomical engravings made. In 1539 Estienne de la Riviére lodged a complaint at the Parlement against Estienne’s claiming his rights as author. The lawsuit delayed the publication of the work, two-thirds of which had already been printed and was subsequently submitted in 1541 to the Faculté de Médecine for approval.

In the De dissectione, Estienne stated at the outset the principle of the new anatomical method: “One should not believe in books on anatomy but far more in one’s own eyes.” The book’s many original observations include the morphology and physiological significance of the “feeding holes” of bones, the cartilaginous meniscus of the temporomandibular joint, the orbicular ligament of the radius, the three-part composition of the sternum, the path of the trigeminal and phrenic nerves, a sharp distinction between the sympathetic chain (considered as a nerve) and the vagus, the canal of the ependyma and the enlargements of the spinal cord, the cerebrospinal fluid, the valvulae in the hepatic veins, and the scrotal septum. Estienne also described the ideal anatomical theater and expounded the technique of dissecting cadavers and wiring skeletons.


I. Original Works. De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres, a Carolo Stephano doctore medico editi, una cum figuris et incisionum devlarationibus a Stephano Riuerio chirurgo compositis (Paris, 1545), trans. into French as La dissection des parties du corps humain (Paris, 1546; facsimile ed., Paris, 1965); De nutrimentis (Paris, 1550); Praedium rusticum (Paris, 1554), trans. into French and revised by Liebault as L’agriculture et maison rustique (Paris, 1564).

II. Secondary Literature. On Estienne and his work see R. Herrlinger, “Carolus Stephanus and Stephanus Riverius,” in Clio medica2 (1967), 275–287; E. Lau, Charles Estienne (Wertheim, 1930); G. Rath, “Charles Estienne, Anatom in Schatten Vesals,” in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, 39 (1955), 35–43; and E. Wickersheimer, La médecine et les médecins en France ä l’époque de la Renaissance (Paris, 1906). A facsimile edition of La dissection with a historical introduction by P. Huard and M. D. Grmek, L’ecole anatomique parisienne (Paris, 1965), includes a BIBLIOGRAPHY. A BIBLIOGRAPHY may also be found in A. A. Renouard, Annales de l’imprimerie des Estienne (Paris, 1843). For the anatomical iconography of Estienne, see the manual of L. Choulant and several articles of C. E. Kellett, particularly his brochure Mannerism and Medical Illustration (Newcastle, 1961).

M. D. Grmek