Gerard de Lairesse (1641 –1711)
Lairesse was one of the most celebrated Dutch painters following the death of the great Rembrandt. Lairesse worked as the key illustrator on one of the best anatomical books of the era Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams (1685) by Govert Bidloo. The illustrations were then engraved into copper plates for printing by Abraham Blooteling and Pieter van Gunst.
Interestingly Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams was not a commercial success at the time and the publisher sold 300 of the extra printed plates to William Cowper, a noted English anatomist.
Cowper published the plates with his own, English language text in Oxford in 1698 under the title, Anatomy of the humane bodies, without mentioning Bidloo or the artists of the original plates. Cowper went so far as to use Bidloo’s engraved allegorical title page, amended with an irregular piece of paper lettered: “The anatomy of the humane bodies …,” which fits over the Dutch title.
A number of vitriolic exchanges took place between Bidloo and Cowper, including several pamphlets published in each anatomist’s defence. Cowper claimed, without much evidence presented, that the plates were not Bidloo’s at all, but that they were commissioned by Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) and that after his death Swammerdam’s widow had sold them to Bidloo.