3.12.14

Vesalius and Modern Human Anatomy


Vesalius, The Founder of Modern Human Anatomy: A Renaissance Rebel and Pioneer of Modern Anatomy


Andreae Vesalii Bruxellensis

The anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) rebelled against the medical establishment to set groundbreaking new standards for modern anatomy. [...] Vesalius’ dedication to scientific inquiry, his passion, and his perfectionism made his work unforgettable.[1]

Vesalius was the foremost pioneer of modern anatomy. Born in Brussels, he came from a family of physicians. Educated in Louvain, he studied medicine in Montpelier and Paris, returning to Louvain to teach anatomy. In 1535 he went to France to be an army surgeon to King Charles V and two years later became a professor of anatomy in Padua, Italy. Subsequently he became a physician to the court of Philip II of Spain. On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he received a call to return to Padua to occupy chair of Fallopius. In a storm leading to a shipwreck and subsequent death on the Isle of Zante, Vesalius was buried there in an unmarked grave in 1564. This marked the end of the 'prince of anatomy.' Vesalius' book De humani Corpor[i]s fabrica, published in Basel in 1543, contributes one of the greatest treasures of western civilization and culture. With its companion volume, the Epitome, began the modern observational science and research.[2]

Vesalius is the most famous of all anatomists. In his On The Fabric of the Human Body, he attacked his great Greek predecessor, Galen, for basing his influential anatomical theories on animal dissection and demanded that future descriptions of the human body should be based on human dissection.[3]

Inevitably there will always be resistance to exploring new and unchartered territory. Perhaps one of the most controversial areas of scientific research has been the study of human anatomy. [...] Galen, one of the greatest contributors to the early study of anatomy (c. 129-216 CE) was forced to vivisect pigs and apes as substitutes for cadavers as the dissection of human bodies was prohibited at the time. Amazingly his work stood for centuries and was not really interrogated until the 1500’s when Andreas Vesalius published perhaps the most groundbreaking books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica, in which he naturally contradicted and corrected a number of Galen’s findings.[4]

Groundbreaking nearly half a millennium ago, the Fabrica remains relevant and intriguing in the 21st century.[5]

De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (À propos de la structure du corps humain en sept livres) est un livre sur l’anatomie humaine écrit par l’anatomiste belge Andreas Vesalius (André Vésale, 1514-1564) en 1543 et publié à Bâle par Johannes Oporinus en 1543, 2e éd. en 1555.
Il s’agit d’un des plus grands ouvrages scientifiques jamais réalisés et du livre fondateur de l’anatomie moderne. En quelques 663 pages, plus de deux cents planches, accompagnées de leurs commentaire, il fait la première description complète de l’anatomie du corps humain, décrivant soigneusement les os, les articulations, les muscles, le coeur et les vaisseaux sanguins, le système nerveux, les organes de l’abdomen et du thorax ainsi que le cerveau.
Après avoir obtenu l’autorisation en 1539 de pratiquer des dissections sur des cadavres de condamnés, Vésale constate rapidement des erreurs dans les descriptions de Galien et comprend qu’elles s’appliquent au singe et non à l’homme. Il entreprend alors la rédaction d’un traité d’anatomie destiné à corriger ces erreurs. En 1540, il confirme son hypothèse en disséquant à Bologne le cadavre d’un singe et d’un homme et montre que l’appendice tel que le décrit Galien n’existe que chez le singe.
En 1543, à l’âge de 28 ans et après quatre ans de travaux incessants, il publie ses découvertes à Bâle chez Jean Oporin (imprimeur, universitaire et professeur de grec) dans De humani corporis fabrica, couramment appelé la Fabrica, le plus grand traité d’anatomie depuis Galien.
Dans cet ouvrage, Vésale corrige les erreurs de Galien. La seconde édition en 1555 corrige ces dernières erreurs. Ce livre mettra fin au galénisme, mais par la polémique qu’il engendre amène Vésale à abandonner son travail de recherche. Il est en effet attaqué par de nombreux galénistes, et notamment par Jacobus Sylvius, l’un de ses anciens maîtres. Il fait une dernière démonstration publique à Padoue en décembre 1543. Puis, dans un accès de colère ou de lassitude, il brûle tous ses documents scientifiques, ses livres et ses travaux et abandonne sa chaire de professeur.
L’une des particularité de De humani corporis fabrica est la grande qualité graphique de ses planches anatomiques. Une série de 25 planches hors-texte gravées sur bois est d’ailleurs d’une telle qualité que certainsbreux spécialistes les attribuent à Titien (Tiziano venitiano) lui-même. On sait que les reproductions des planches ont été réalisées par l’atelier de Titien et notamment par Jan Van Calcar (Jean de Calcar).[6]

Credits and references
1. 500 Years Vesalius
2. Stephen N. Joffe, Andreas Vesalius: Making, Madman, Myth, 2014. The book puts in context the story of a man that changed the way of considering the human body and revolutionized the structure of medical textbooks.
3. Lunchtime Lecture: Vesalius 500 years on, London, Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of England, 16.9.2014
4. Aanderton, Early Anatomists, John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog, Manchester, 10.10.2013
5. 500 Years Vesalius
6. Mairgance, De humanis corporis fabrica, Luxe et Vanités, 21.3.2011

Online Resources
• Stephen N. Joffe, Andreas Vesalius: Making, Madman, Myth, Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2009-14.
Vesalius' Fabrica, Basel: Karger, 2014
Vesalius and Dissection, Kickoff, 17.5.[!]
• Grace Dane Mazur, The Strange Beauty of “Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge”, The Arts Fuse, 18.9.2011 Ref. invention of etching, 16th century
History of Illustration: Vesalius and Dürer, 20.11.2012
Anatomical Maps: Eastern Development in the Middle Ages
• U.S. National Library of Medicine, Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD: Dream Anatomy - Gallery

Andreas Vesalius and De Fabrica

Vesalius' treatise De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (Seven Chapters on the Structure of the Human Body) was based entirely on his own observation and research during dissections, sometimes refuting the ancient master Galen. Central to this major work were the woodcut illustrations which Vesalius commissioned and which set a standard for medical illustration and book arts for centuries to come.

Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) is best known for changing how we do medical research with his groundbreaking book, De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (Seven Chapters on the Structure of the Human Body), published in 1543 and generally known as De Fabrica. Among many other things, he placed the study of anatomy at the center of medical education, insisted on physicians performing their own medical research through hands-on investigation, and revolutionized the use of illustration as a teaching tool. While he was long a disciple of Galen, he showed that some of Galen’s writings were flawed, which caused an enormous uproar in the medical world of the 16th century.

Originally from Brussels, Andreas Vesalius attended medical school in Louvain, Paris, and finally Padua, where he became a professor in surgery and anatomy in 1537. Medical research in the early 16th century was mainly a linguistic endeavor, as physicians and humanists sought out the best and least flawed manuscript versions of medieval and ancient medical texts. The only way to discover something unknown about the human body was to find an unexamined text by ancient Greek physicians like second-century Greek physician Galen or the even older writings of Hippocrates, who lived in the fifth century B.C.E. Because so few Europeans knew how to read Galen and Hippocrates in the original Greek, translations into Latin were the primary means of disseminating this newly found information.

Some physicians also sought out texts produced in the middle ages by anatomists like the Italian Mondino dei Luzzi (c. 1270–1326) and Islamic physicians who produced numerous learned commentaries on the texts of older Greek physicians. Believing that these medieval texts were flawed and mere commentaries on the ancient texts, Vesalius was at first a strong adherent to Galen, and he helped to carefully edit and translate some of the ancient texts for a new Latin translation of Galen’s works in the early 1540s.

Because of this textual approach to medical research, physical investigation and examination of the human body were not considered very important by most physicians. While dissections took place at most medical schools (more frequently in Northern Italy than anywhere else), these were mainly exercises in demonstrating and verifying ancient and medieval texts, not exploring the body itself. The physician/instructor would normally sit on a high chair (cathedra) or stand at a podium with a text of Galen or Mondino, reading aloud as a barber surgeon made incisions in the body for a group of students looking on. Because of this, obvious errors made by Galen—most likely because he had generally only dissected apes, dogs and sheep—generally went unnoticed or were assumed to be anomalies. These dissections were rare and usually did not involve close examination of the cadaver, and Vesalius felt that they were essentially useless: for instance the abdomen was often merely cut open to display the viscera and little else.

When Vesalius arrived in Padua, he began performing dissections on his own and soon started to doubt some of Galen’s anatomical descriptions, which Galen himself admitted were made by consulting older texts and dissecting dogs, sheep, and apes (in particular the Barbary macaque). Differences that Vesalius noticed ranged from the small, such as Galen’s incorrect description of the lumbar vertebral processes, to the fact that the human liver has two lobes rather than five. A major discovery was that humans do not have at the base of their brains a structure called the rete mirabilis, or “miraculous network” of blood vessels, which Galen had observed in the necks of sheep and he claimed suffused the “vital fluid” to the brain, an important part of his theory of human physiology.

Vesalius felt that knowledge of anatomy was essential to the learning and practice of medicine, so he set out to create the ultimate guidebook to the human body. In De Fabrica, he systematically described every bodily structure and backed up all of his descriptions with evidence found in his own dissections of human cadavers rather than with textual evidence from Galen—a revolutionary feat which changed medicine forever. He also commissioned detailed illustrations like none ever published before and touted them as important teaching tools. To reinforce the use of illustrations as teaching tools, he also issued simultaneous to De Fabrica a shorter dissection manual called the Epitome, using many of the same woodblock illustrations.

The dogmatic medical establishment of 16th-century Europe, which slavishly adhered to Galen’s texts, were appalled, and many of them spent a great deal of energy attacking the new “Vesalian anatomy.” Among his most virulent critics was his former professor at the University of Paris, Jacques Dubois (1478–1555), known as “Sylvius,” who published a screed against Vesalius in 1551 entitled, Vaesani Cuisdam Calumniarum in Hippocratis Galenique Rem Anatomicam Depulsio (A Counter-Attack on a Fool’s Slanders Against Hippocrates and Galen). Fear of further criticisms caused Vesalius to pull back from performing other research, and he even burned several manuscripts for other books rather than publish them.

Almost immediately, however, Vesalius’s breakthroughs were acknowledged, and new approaches to medical research, education, and medical illustration began to flourish. In fact, De Fabrica was so popular that plagiarisms of the images and text began to come out almost immediately. One of the most famous examples was Juan Valverde de Amusco’s Historia de la Composicion del Cuerpo Humano, first published in Rome in 1556 (Michael J. North, Andreas Vesalius and De Fabrica, Circulating Now, US National Library of Medicine, 9.4.2014).

The Plates

One of the great mysteries surrounding Andreas Vesalius’s De Fabrica is who illustrated this beautiful and important book, which not only began a new era in medical research in which physicians made their own observations rather than relying on texts by the ancients, but also raised the importance of illustration to medical education and ushered in a new phase in medical publishing and the arts.

While at his post as professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Padua, Andreas Vesalius spent much of 1542 preparing his magnum opus, the De Fabrica, performing dissections (sometimes in his home) and working with an artist (or more likely several artists) to create the woodcut illustrations for which the book is so well known. Vesalius was exacting in his methods of dissection and investigation of the cadaver. He would perform a dissection and position the cadaver so that important structures were highlighted and visible; he even describes in De Fabrica his use of nooses and cords to hold the cadavers in place. It is unknown, however, who the artist or artists were; it is likely that some of the images were first sketched by Vesalius himself and a final draft created by a trained artist (these are not the work of an amateur). Later, a craftsman, most likely in Venice, carved the images in relief onto blocks of pear wood. Correspondence between Vesalius and his publisher Johannes Oporinus describe the packing and transport of the woodblocks across the Alps from Venice to Basel, but no mention is made of the artists who created them.

One theory that held sway for many years was that the artist was Jan Steven van Calcar (1499-ca. 1546), a Flemish painter who was a student of Titian in Venice. A strong piece of evidence is that it is known that Calcar was the artist for Vesalius’s first illustrated anatomy, Tabulae Anatomicae, which came out in 1538. Many years later, Giorgio Vasari stated in the second edition of his noted Lives of the Most Famous Painters in 1568 that Calcar was responsible for the figures in Vesalius’s book, however, many believe that this is only a reference to Tabulae Anatomicae and not De Fabrica. Calcar died in 1546 or 1547, only a few years after De Fabrica was published, and he does not seem to have been described as Vesalius’s artist until Vasari’s book came out over 20 years later.

Outstanding among the woodcut illustrations are the skeleton and muscle figures and the title page. The muscle figures are noted for their beauty and detail—the muscles had never been depicted in print in a way which allowed such close examination—and they are indexed by letters (some in Greek) pointing to different structures and described in the text of adjoining pages. The rural landscape in the background of the figures, which have been identified as the Euganean Hills outside Padua, form a continuous panorama of the area. The title page of De Fabrica is by itself considered one of the most famous woodcut illustrations of the 16th century because of its intricacy. Front and center in the elaborate scene is Vesalius himself with his hands on a female cadaver in an anatomical theater, instead of on a high chair reading a Galenic text while a surgeon or student performed the cutting. Characters in the title-page scene appear to include students, onlookers from the public, a skeleton, contemporary sages, and even what may be an ancient physician. Also depicted are a dog with a human foot and a rhesus monkey, most likely to symbolize the fact that Galen drew most of his anatomical knowledge from the dissection of these animals instead of humans (Michael J. North, Illustrating De Fabrica, Circulating Now, US National Library of Medicine, 8.7.2014).


Addendum: assorted texts

1) http://www.comptonhistory.com/compton2/Vesalius.htm

In 1500 the most important books used in the training of doctors were those written by Claudius Galen. Galen's ideas had been dominant for hundreds of years, but were only proved wrong for the first time by Andreas Vesalius.

Who was Andreas Vesalius?
Vesalius was born in Brussels and completed his medical training in Paris. He went on to become Professor of Anatomy at Padua University in Italy. During the Renaissance Padua was a famous centre for medical training. Vesalius believed that the dissection of human bodies was necessary if doctors were to find out how bodies worked. However, the dissection of human bodies was not allowed by the Church. Vesalius therefore had to resort to taking bones from graves and even stealing a body from the gallows so that he could explore the anatomy of the human body.

How did he become well known?
In 1543 Vesalius wrote the first major book about anatomy. It was called 'de Humani Corporis Fabrica' (The Fabric of the Human Body). Vesalius worked closely with the famous artist Titian who produced 277 anatomical illustrations for his book. He pioneered the use of highly illustrated medical text, where the drawings showed the human body in greater detail then ever before.

How did he change medical ideas?
Vesalius's work brought about an important change in medical thinking. He was able to prove that some of Galen's theories were wrong. Galen, who was only able to dissect animals, assumed that humans had the same anatomy. Vesalius by performing dissections on humans revealed anatomical structures previously unknown.

How important was Vesalius?
Vesalius helped establish surgery as a separate medical profession. At the time, though he was criticised, as many people refused to believe that Galen's work could be wrong. The popularity of Vesalius's book, however, meant that his views gradually gained acceptance and greater emphasis began to be placed upon the study of anatomy in medical training.

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2) HISTORY OF ILLUSTRATION: VESALIUS AND DURER

http://ilovedlegion.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/illustration-history-vesalius-and-durer/

As we have been progressing through the year we have been constantly reminded that we are not just animators, illustrators and graphic designers but that we are all visual designers. I love this idea that we are not limited to only exploring our chosen subject and are encouraged to think of ourselves as general designers, using whatever means we determine best to communicates our ideas. I especially like this concept as although I am passionate about graphic design, and have hence chosen it as my subject, I am also very interested in the fields of illustration and animation as I want to become a well rounded designer and not just another mac monkey. The illustration history lecture was a lecture that got me excited about this idea as we were shown some amazing works of illustration, some of which I had been lead to believe where not illustrations but fine art pieces as the were regarded so highly.

The works of Andreas Vesalius stood out to me in particular as not only beautiful drawings but works of great importance that helped influence many things. Vesalius is most famous for his elaborate drawings of the human anatomy, drawings which were not only amazing to look at but also for the most part anatomically correct. His illustrations were not only intricately drawn works of art but also helped improve the knowledge doctors had at the time of the human body and helped raise the bar of medical care at the time. The reason I find Vesalius’s works so impressive is because of the huge contributions they made to something outside of the art world. He was not merely observing and capturing visions of the world he lived in but helping mould and change it, an achievement all designers strive towards. I also just love the style of his artwork as I always find myself drawn to works where line has been given a prominent role. The level of detail in Vesalius’s works are astounding especially when you consider we know now that many of his drawing from nearly 500 years ago were very accurate representations of the human body.

As I’m a fan of line determined works it’s pretty obvious that I’m also a fan of the original master of line, Albert Durer. Durer’s work is widely regarded as being some of the best examples of draftsmen ship to come out of the German Renaissance with his attention to detail being obvious in works such as his apocalypse series and “Melancholia”. His treatment of line in his work is unlike anything that came before him with the intricacy of the drawings being something I greatly admire about him. However I think it’s safe to say that nobody admired Durer more than himself as he quite often featured in his own work, sometimes even as Jesus Christ which is possibly the reason he was the first artist to put his signature on all his works, something which today can make or break a piece. Probably the thing I like most about duress’s work is the the generally dark and macabre themes in most of his works. The eeriness of the the devil in “Knight Death and The Devil” and his various renditions of death incarnate are all parts I love to look at for the fact that I love things like them and also because of how well they have been illustrated.

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3) vesalius n dissection - http://fx.damasgate.com/vesalius-and-dissection/

For centuries (until computer imaging made it possible to move around and through a body) dissection was the only reliable way to learn anat- omy, and the dead body the only place you could afford to make mistakes. In this tradition of medical education, the great hero is Vesalius (1514–64), who is regarded as the founder of modern medi- cine. The beginning of modern medicine can then be dated to a day in 1536 when Vesalius, walking outside the city walls of Louvain, came across the body of an executed criminal chained to a gibbet. Only the bones remained, ‘held together by the ligaments alone’. Vesalius at once made off with the arms and legs, but came back that night (defying the curfew) to climb the gibbet, smash the chain and carry off the trunk. Out of these parts he constructed his first skeleton em;boiling them up secretly, and then pretending that he had brought them with him from Paris. ‘I was burning with so great a desire to possess those bones,’ he wrote seven years later, ‘that I did not hesitate to snatch in the middle of the night that which I so desired.’ Vesalius had no name for his desire, and I can think of none either. The love of knowledge certainly formed part of it. So did a burning desire to imitate Galen, who describes coming across a rather similar skeleton in his On Anatomical Procedures, a work which had only recently been rediscovered, and a translation of which had been published by Vesalius’s teacher, Guinter of Andernach, in 1531. But so too did a delight in doing what no one else dared do, what was forbidden. At night restless spirits walk, and Vesalius was one of them. In Northern Europe dissection was a relative rarity, and Vesalius went on to conduct the first dissection in Louvain for eighteen years. Vesalius complained that his own education at the University of Paris had been so pathetic that, despite being a medical student who had practised only on the bodies of animals, he had had to take over from the instructor during the dissection of a human being in order to show how it ought to be done. In Italy, however, dissections had been routine for over two hundred years. In 1315 Mondino de’ Luzzi, at the University of Bologna, conducted the first comprehensive dissection of a human corpse for over a thousand years, perhaps even since Herophilus and Erasistratus, and the next year he published a manual on the subject. Mondino believed himself to be following in the footsteps of Galen, although there is no conclusive evidence that Galen ever actually dissected human beings. Mondino established a new norm for medical education in Italy (where the distinction between medicine and surgery was less sharp than in Northern Europe): doctors were expected, as part of their university education, to be present at dissections. Dissections were carried out in the winter months and the bodies used were those of recently executed criminals. No more than one or two dissections were normally conducted in a year, and the audience consisted of a small group of twenty or so. As these dissections became routine, they were brought within a conventional academic framework, that of the lecture. The professor read from a textbook, usually that of Mondino, while his assistant, frequently a practising surgeon, carried out the dissection. The real object of study was the book; the body was only there to illustrate what was being described in the book. Such academic dissection was quite separate from the occasional opening up of a body to establish the cause of death, the post mortem, a process which goes back before 1315 and has a continuous history thereafter.

Anatomy Lesson, from Johannes de Ketham, Fasciculus Mediciniae (Venice, 1522). This illustration stands at the beginning of an edition of Mondino’s Anothomia. In the first two editions of this collection the image is slightly different – the lecturer has no book in front of him, and is presumably intended to be Mondino himself. This reworked image first appears in 1495, and shows a lecturer reading from Mondino’s text – it thus shows how anatomy was taught prior to Vesalius. With Vesalius and his immediate predecessors (in Italy, from 1490 or so) everything changes. Dissections become much more frequent –– in 1522 Jacopo Berengario da Carpi (c.1460–c.1530) claimed to have dissected hundreds of bodies. The result was a crisis in the supply of bodies. Dissections also became immensely popular. Tiered seating would be erected in a church or a square so that a very large audience could get a good view –– audiences of five hundred were not unknown. The frontispiece of Vesalius’s great work, the De Humani Corporis Fabrica or The Construction of the Human Body (1543), shows the crowds gathered to watch ‘an anatomy’ (as a dissection was called by contemporary Englishmen). Moreover such audiences consisted not just of doctors and medical students, but of philosophers, theo- logians, gentlemen and their servants, though, if Vesalius’s frontispiece is to be trusted, there were no women amongst them. Attending a dissection was now a fashionable entertainment. By the early seven- teenth century special anatomical theatres were being built in Italy and Holland for the public performance of dissections (and there were women in the audience in Holland). Above all, the focus of dissection was now not on the book but the body: Vesalius used no book, but displayed the parts of the body himself. In the preface to the Fabrica he laid great stress on the need to step down from the cathedra, the pulpit or great chair from which professors lectured, and work with one’s own hands, and the Fabrica contains a portrait of Vesalius dissecting an arm. The anatomy lecturer was now expected to lecture from what Vesalius called the book of nature (thus indirectly acknowledging the traditional authority of books), and this involved, quite literally, getting his hands dirty. Why was there such public interest in anatomy in the sixteenth century? Vesalius was proud to be doing exactly what Galen had done em;Galen had not trusted his slaves to prepare bodies (in his case, the bodies of apes), but had worked on them with his own hands, and had conducted dissections in public. The new anatomy fitted in with a much larger enterprise of recovering the culture of classical Rome, an enterprise that embraced literature, philosophy, and art. Vesalius, though, was convinced (quite possibly correctly) that Galen had dissected only apes, dogs, pigs, and other animals, not humans.

The titlepage to the 1st edition of Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica.

This was the only feasible explanation for his numerous mistakes: in the Fabrica Vesalius set out to demonstrate more than three hundred of them. At his public dissections he may well have compared dogs and monkeys with humans (both a monkey and a rather strange-looking dog appear in the frontispiece) so that people could see for themselves the source of Galen’s misconceptions, but such animals were probably primarily to hand so that they could be vivisected. Anatomy thus represented new knowledge in a world where the assumption had long been that there could be no progress beyond the achievements of the ancients. Anatomy was seen as being of central importance. It was man’s knowledge of himself, through which the anatomist learnt about his own body. But at the same time man was a microcosm, a little uni- verse, an epitome of the macrocosm or larger universe, so that all knowledge was to be found reflected and summarized in him. And man had, the Bible said, been made in the image of God, so the study of anatomy was also the study of the divine. Moreover anatomy gave onlookers the opportunity to meditate on death and the transi- ence of life, a theme both philosophical and religious. Finally, the Renaissance did not see minds and bodies as distinct in the way that we (since Descartes) do: hair colour, for example, reflected the balance of the humours, and this determined the psychology of the individual. To study someone’s body was also to study their mind. All this served to give the messy and disturbing task of cutting up bodies an extraordinary dignity. Renaissance art had already trained people to look at the body in a new way, and from the beginning the great artists of the Renaissance had practised anatomy. Donatello (1386–1466) attended anatomical dissections (he illustrates one in a bronze, ‘The Heart of the Miser’) and made a bronze sculpture of the skeleton of a horse; Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432–98) ‘removed the skin from many corpses in order to see the anatomy underneath’. To portray weight, balance, move- ment, tension, and strength the artist had to have a direct knowledge of the structure of the bones and the shape of the muscles. In 1435 Alberti advised anyone painting a human figure to imagine the bones beneath the skin and to build up from them the muscles and the surface appearance, and there is a sketch by Raphael in which he can be seen doing exactly that. The great Leonardo (1452–1519) was so interested in the structure of the human body that he planned a book on human anatomy, perhaps to be written in conjunction with a famous Florentine doctor of the day, Marcantonio della Torre. A generation later, the artists crowded round Vesalius at dissections. On such occasions the artist and the anatomist had more in common than just an interest in bodies. At the same time that the anatomist was getting down from his podium to get his hands dirty, the artist, who had always been considered of low social class because he worked with his hands, was laying claim to a new social status, a right to mix with intellectuals and nobles. Both had an investment in dignifying manual dexterity. The anatomist was demonstrating his newfound knowledge, but the human body was interesting partly because artists had trained the public to look at it with an anatomist’s eye. The anatomists and the artists, by giving manual work a new status, made possible the scientific revolution, which itself depended on the educated learning from artisans and doing things for them- selves with their own hands. The anatomy theatre is the first labora- tory, the cadaver the first experimental apparatus. Galileo, Boyle, and Newton followed in the footsteps of Leonardo and Vesalius, and the crowds who gathered to watch Vesalius were giving their support to the first modern scientific enterprise. Without three technical developments Vesalius could never have accomplished what he did: the printing press using movable type; the woodcut; and perspectival representation. In order to claim that he knew more than Galen had done, Vesalius had to direct his audience to reliable editions of Galen. He himself edited, for the great Giunta edition of Galen’s Opera Omnia that appeared in 1541–2 and included many new translations from the best Greek manuscripts, the key ana- tomical text of Galen, the one that had inspired his own bone-stealing in 1536. An anatomist like Mondino, in the fourteenth century, could not read the full range of Galen’s writings, or be sure that the copies he had were reliable (even Vesalius complained that he could not get sight of crucial Greek manuscripts that he needed to check the accur- acy of the Latin translations). By 1542 any educated person with access to a decent library could trace the full range of Galen’s views on any topic, and could be confident that the texts at his disposal were generally accurate. He could now claim to be sure of what Galen thought and consequently to be in a position to judge whether he was wrong or right. The printing press and the new scholarly editions that it made possible were fundamental to Vesalius’s enterprise of surpassing Galen. In addition, before the printing press medical books had had either no illustrations or only very rudimentary ones. Manuscripts were copied by hand and so only the crudest of illustrations could be employed. With anything complicated the quality was bound to degenerate as one copy was made from another. With the printing press came a new emphasis on illustration; woodcuts and (even better) copper plates could be employed to provide complex and detailed information. Leonardo saw clearly the possibilities that this opened up. Beside one of his anatomical drawings of a heart he wrote: O writer what words of yours could describe this whole organism as perfectly as this drawing does? Because you have no true knowledge of it you write confusedly, and convey little understanding of the true form of things . . . How could you describe this heart in words without filling a whole book? And the more minutely you try to write of it the more you confuse the mind of the listener. Vesalius invented the process of labelling parts of illustrations with letters keyed to an accompanying text, so that readers could turn back and forth from text to illustration using each as a commentary on the other. Vesalius was also able to draw on the great discovery of Renais- sance art, perspectival representation, to produce images that created the illusion of being three-dimensional, without which it would have been impossible to represent the interrelationship of the different parts of the human body. Raised in Brussels and Louvain, educated in Paris, by 1537 Vesalius was teaching in Padua, and to illustrate his great work, the Fabric of the Human Body, he turned to the nearby city of Venice, to the artists in Titian’s studio. The first scientific drawings employed the skills of the most highly trained artists of the day.

Two medieval illustrations of skeletons, one from the fourteenth and one from the mid-fifteenth centuries, give an indication of the very varying quality of the illustrations accompanying medieval med- ical manuscripts – but even the finer of the two, an exceptionally detailed image for a medieval manuscript, falls far short of the standard of accuracy established by Vesalius. Vesalius was the first to bring together anatomy, art, and the printing press. In principle, Leonardo could have beaten him to it; but the enterprise would have been impossible before 1500, when a lavishly illustrated book would have been hopelessly expensive (the first ana- tomical drawing made from direct observation had appeared in print as recently as 1493), and eccentric before 1531, for up until then the task of catching up with the knowledge of the ancient Romans was still incomplete. Before Vesalius, the most important work to pioneer anatomical illustration was Berengario da Carpi’s Commentaria of 1521; Vesalius published his first illustrated medical text, the Tabulae Anatomicae in 1538, in collaboration with an artist, Joannes Stephanus of Calcar: he must have begun work on the Tabulae almost immedi- ately on arrival in Padua. He was clearly determined to waste no time. Illustration, of the quality pioneered in the Fabrica, enabled the anatomist to make manifest exactly what it was that he thought he had seen. His successors could compare both his words and his plates with what they found on the dissecting table, and if there was a discrepancy they could be certain that they had found something new. Leonardo carried out a number of dissections, and in his draw- ings we can trace the development of his anatomical understanding. At first he held all sorts of mythical beliefs derived from ancient authors: for example, that there was a duct connecting the penis to the brain, so that semen contained not only matter from the testicles, but spirit from the brain. The great English anatomist, Thomas Willis, was still looking for such a duct in the 1660s. As time passed, Leonardo made ever more exact observations of the human body, although occasionally it is clear from his drawings that he has more experience of dissecting cows than humans, so that bovine features appear in his illustrations of human anatomy! Still, his new knowledge, confined to his private notebooks, had no impact on his contemporaries. Vesalius’s discoveries, by contrast, were a public record of the extent (and the limits) of his knowledge. In the Fabrica Vesalius set out to illustrate the human body logic- ally, which meant ignoring the sequence of an actual dissection. A dissection started with the abdomen, which was where putrefaction began first, and then proceeded to remove the skin, and work down through the layers of the flesh, ending with the bare bones. As a result the normal name for a skeleton in sixteenth-century English was ‘an anatomy’, since a skeleton was the end product of the anatomical enterprise. But Vesalius begins the Fabrica with the bones and they, at the end of the first book, are then assembled into a series of three elegant skeletons, viewed from front, side, and rear. He then works from the surface of the body inwards, and only finally does he turn to the abdomen. One can see at once the pedagogical advantages of such an approach, but it was also a symbolic choice on Vesalius’s part: the skeleton represented the beginning of his own career as an anatomist. Only having introduced you to the skeleton does he begin to work with the whole body. The skeleton was Vesalius’s trademark, and it became the trade- mark of the new anatomy. Hippocrates may have given a statue repre- senting a skeleton to the temple of Asclepius. Galen had stressed the importance of trying to find a body where the flesh had rotted away and all the bones were in place, though there is no evidence that he ever went on, as Vesalius did, to assemble a skeleton by tying the bones together with thread and wire. There are images of skeletons on late Roman tombs and drinking cups, reminders of the shortness of life; and in the later Middle Ages there are often images of death as an emaciated creature with the bones showing through, or even as a mere skeleton. And Donatello’s bronze horse’s skeleton shows how natural it was for any Renaissance artist to think in terms of skeletons. There was nothing new, then, about the idea of a skeleton. Vesalius however turned the articulated skeleton into a central pedagogical aid: he had one hanging by the body being dissected as he lectured and cut, and, in imitation of him, generations of anatomists furnished every anatomy theatre with its skeleton. Vesalius could use skeletons as pedagogic aids because he had a new method for producing them. He implies he is following the example of Galen, but the reference he gives to Galen is false, and perhaps deliberately misleading. He tells us, in the opening pages of the Fabrica, that his predecessors had put bodies in coffins, covered them in quick lime, and then, after a few days, cut holes in the sides of the coffins and put them in a stream. After a while, the coffins were removed from the running water and opened; the flesh had washed away, leaving the bones, still tied together by ligaments. But the dark ligaments concealed much of what needed to be seen. Vesalius’s method was very different. In his kitchen, he boiled up a large vat of water. He carved up a body, removing as much flesh as possible, and carefully putting aside loose pieces of cartilage, including the cartilage in the tip of the nose and the eyelids. He then boiled up the body until it fell apart, pouring off the fat and straining the liquid so that nothing was lost. He was left with beautiful clean bones that could be wired together to create an almost perfect representation of the ‘living’ skeleton.

The lateral view of the skeleton from the De Fabrica of 1543. the ‘living’ skeleton.

Those little bits of cartilage which could not be reattached (the tip of the nose, the stiffening to the eyelid, the ears) he strung together on a necklace to decorate his teaching aid, which was then made portable by being mounted on a folding stand and encased in a box –– one of Vesalius’s skeletons survives to this day in Basle. There is something profoundly alarming about the story of how to make a skeleton: Vesalius is boiling bones as if he was making beef stock; he is chopping up bodies in his own kitchen as if he were about to eat them. By beginning with bones, and with his recipe for pro- ducing skeletons, Vesalius was inevitably reminding his readers that there was something shocking about dissection. As already noted, a papal bull of 1299 had specifically forbidden the boiling up of bodies (a method used for the bones of Crusaders), and Mondino had acknowledged that there were some bones in the skull that could only properly be exposed by boiling them up: these, Mondino said, he was accustomed (a slippery word) to leave alone, in order to avoid committing a sin. Readers of Vesalius naturally concentrate on the large and elaborate scientific illustrations; but each book and then each chapter begins with an illustrated initial letter –– a larger letter for the first letter of each book, a smaller one for the first letter of every chapter after the first. Naturally the first letter of the preface is a large initial V, illustrated by a picture of an anatomist cutting into a body positioned so that it seems strangely alive. The first letter of book I, facing the portrait of Vesalius himself, shows putti (naked children) boiling up bones in a kitchen to make a skeleton. The innocence of the putti contrasts sharply with the cooking of human beings. This, as much as the portrait of himself, is Vesalius’s chosen self-representation. It is sometimes said that the very act of looking inside the body was disturbing. This is certainly wrong, as in Italy it was normal to embalm bodies to help preserve them between death and the funeral. Italian funerals were ‘open casket’ events; no body that had been dissected could be buried in the normal way. But worse still, no body that had been turned into a skeleton could be buried at all. At the very heart of the new practice of dissection, where it ended in the production of a skeleton, was a truly shocking act: the denial of burial to the dead. Theologically speaking, one did not need to be buried in order to be resurrected to eternal life: Vesalius’s skeletons, bones in a box, with the flesh torn away and boiled off, were in no worse a position as far as resurrection was concerned than fishermen drowned at sea, and Italian cemeteries contained ossuaries where old bones were collected when plots were reused for fresh burials. Still, the burying of the dead was a fundamental gesture of respect, and if the remains of the dissected sometimes ended up in a tomb, they often ended up on display. Vesalius was engaged in a strangely contradictory activity. On the one hand he employed the finest artists to turn his cadavers into aesthetic objects. He carefully posed his dead bodies so that they could be represented as though still alive. He had them illustrated in landscapes, as if walking about. When he came to illustrate the viscera, where it was clearly impossible to make a corpse look alive with its guts hanging out, he created the illusion that an antique statue was being opened up to discover flesh-and-blood organs within. But then, he provides an illustration to show just how his bodies were posed: a corpse held up by a rope, hanging from a pulley, bits of flesh dangling from the bones. When he dissects the brain, he allows you to see (after the idealized anonymity of the ‘muscle men’) the mous- tache and facial characteristics of the corpse: his friends would be able to recognize him. And he provides an illustration of the lower torso, with legs splayed and dangling penis, which makes it look like a hunk of meat on a butcher’s slab. At one moment he is a magician, beautify- ing death; at the next he is telling you it was only a trick, and showing you how terrible the dead body can be. We find the same contradiction in the text. At one moment Vesalius is writing of anatomy as a divine calling, at another he is boiling human bodies in a vat. It is Vesalius who tells us that he obtained the first body he worked on by pulling it down off a gibbet and carrying it home in pieces under cover of darkness; Vesalius who tells us that his students stole the unburied body of a woman who had recently died, and quickly flayed it so that those who knew her would not recognize her; Vesalius who tells us that one of the bodies he dissected was that of a recently buried prostitute beauty, her body stolen from the cemetery; Vesalius who tells us that his students had keys made so that they could get easy access to bones and bodies in the cemeteries.

Third illustration of the anatomy of the torso from the De Fabrica: this is one of a series of images that turn the body into an antique statue.

Vesalius repeatedly tells us, in short, that he obtains bodies by stealing them and makes it absolutely clear that much of this activity is criminal: in the case of the flayed woman, her relatives went straight to a judge to protest the theft of her corpse. In 1497, the anatomist Alessandro Benedetti had claimed the law allowed the dissection of ‘unknown and ignoble bodies’, those of foreigners and criminals, who had no one to protect their honour, but in Venice at least the law was tightened up in 1550 to put an end to tomb robbing by anatomists, and many of the stories with which Vesalius had regaled his readers disappeared from the revised edition of the Fabrica in 1555. A tiny detail in the text illustrates Vesalius’s obsession with the transgressive. Once an initial letter had been designed it was reused whenever the same letter occurred: thus the large initial V that stands at the head of the preface also stands at the head of book V. But there are two small initial ‘L’s –– the standard initial ‘L’ shows a body being removed from the gallows; but at the point in his text where he discusses the anatomy of the arse, Vesalius has an initial ‘L’ which shows a putto shitting. This is, quite straightforwardly, a dirty joke; but what Vesalius is doing here is shitting on his own book. Vesalius was not the only one to tell stories against himself: Leon- ardo joked about having the quartered bodies of human beings lying around his studio, as if it was a butcher’s shop. It is worth remember- ing that in Renaissance Europe, butchers, like executioners, were always social pariahs, forced to live on the outskirts of town, and unable to marry the daughters of other tradesmen. One artist, the sculptor Silvio Cosini, as if in a Renaissance Silence of the Lambs, even made a T-shirt for himself out of the skin of a dissected body: scolded by a friar, he gave his shirt a decent burial. The main legitimate source of bodies was the scaffold (remember the initial ‘L’ with its body being removed from the gallows), but bodies that had been executed were inevitably badly damaged. Not surprisingly, anatomists were eager to cut out the middleman; the great anatomist Fallopio (the discoverer of the Fallopian tubes) was given a live criminal by the ruler of Tuscany; the arrangement was mutually beneficial, for the condemned man was killed by opiates, a merciful death which left the body intact. The search for fresh corpses could also bring anatomists perilously close to human vivisection: Vesalius writes of removing the still pulsing heart of someone ‘killed’ in an accident. Anatomy was an inherently transgressive activity that only slowly became respectable; for his publisher Vesalius chose not a Venetian press, but Oporinus of Basle, who had a reputation for publishing heretics (including Castellio and Servetus). Vesalius constantly emphasized both anatomy’s potential for respectability and its trans- gressive character. One could argue that his own texts imply a subtext: that Vesalius confesses to tomb robbing and cooking up human bodies because he is himself horrified by what he does. Katharine Park has written of Vesalius’s ‘candid pride’ in his tomb-robbing exploits, but on the contrary his behaviour suggests someone deeply conflicted. As soon as he had seen the Fabrica through the press he gave up lecturing on anatomy to become a doctor to the emperor; and he destroyed a number of unpublished works. He died on the island of Zante, returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: according to a story we owe to the great Renaissance surgeon Ambroise Paré, he had fled Spain for the Holy Land when the body of a young girl that he was dissecting had turned out to be still alive. Johannes Metellus tells us that on his return his ship had been caught in storms and had been at sea for forty days; those on board had not expected the voyage to be anything like as lengthy. ‘Several [of the passengers] became sick, partly through lack of biscuit and partly through lack of water, and Vesalius’s mind was so disturbed by the casting of the dead into the sea that he fell ill, first through anxiety and then through fear, and asked that if he should die he might not, like the others, become food for the fish.’ You might think that being eaten by fish is no worse than being eaten by worms; but there is an important difference. Human beings do not eat worms but they do eat fish. To be eaten by fish is to enter the human food chain; it is cannibalism at one remove. And it was always the spectre of cannibal- ism that overshadowed the anatomist’s art. Fortunately for Vesalius he did not die until very shortly after reaching land, and was given a decent burial, so that, according to Pietro Bizzari, his body ‘might not remain as food and nourishment for wild beasts’. ‘May God preserve us from such a fate’, wrote the early sixteenth-century anatomist Alessandro Benedetti after describ- ing an anatomy. Vesalius, terrified of being eaten by fishes, would surely have been equally dismayed at the thought of being chopped up, boiled, and turned into a skeleton; to have one’s body stolen by medical students was every bit as awful as being eaten by wild beasts. Concealed behind Vesalius’s bravado is a genuine alarm at what he had done; we find no trace of this horror in the greatest pupil of the Paduan anatomists, William Harvey, who carried out post-mortem dissections on both his father and his brother.

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4) http://nyamcenterforhistory.org/vesalius-500/

Global Celebrations of Vesalius’s 500th Birthday

Vesalius 500: Art, Anatomy and the Body
Celebrating the intertwined histories of art and anatomy; illustration and medicine; performance and the body; and the 500th birthday of anatomist and humanist Andreas Vesalius.

New York Academy of Medicine, 18 October 2014

Unexpected Anatomies: Extraordinary Bodies in Contemporary Art
Ann Fox, PhD, and Chun-Shan “Sandie” Yi
Artworks about body difference show us the lived experience of disability. They dissect traditional ways of knowing about the body, which typically operate on our perceptions and expectations in problematic ways. Scholar Tobin Siebers has posited a “disability aesthetics” that dismantles our understanding of the body as an entity that is naturally one way and offers, instead, through fragmentation and reassemblage of the human form, a richer sense of human embodiment. Fox will discuss anatomies in art that approach and compel the anatomical gaze toward the body slant; for instance, Carol Chase Bjerke’s Misfortune Cookies, arranged in the shape of a stoma, evoke the intersection of the physical embodiment and lived experience of the ostomy patient. Yvonne Petkus’s sculptural paintings of female nudes—some informed by the experiences of Boston Marathon bombing survivors—reimagine the muscled anatomical figure in a meditation on bodily hierarchies and the aftereffects of trauma. Doug Auld’s paintings of burn survivors, State of Grace, and Sandie Yi’s Re-fuse Skin Set, challenge our sense of skin as the reflector of a whole, cohesive, normalized anatomy.

STAND UP STRAIGHT: Toward a History of the Science of Posture
Sander Gilman
Our bodies are malleable. They change with age and with the demands that we place on them. How we stand—our posture—defines us as healthy or ill, able or disabled, beautiful or ugly. It defines us as human or not human. How do these shifting ideas of posture provide insights into the claims society makes on who we are and what we are able to do? The history of posture is also the history of our reading of human anatomy. From the ancients to the moderns, how the body’s anatomy is understood shaped and shapes our understanding of what is human (did Neanderthal Man stand up straight or slouch?), what is beautiful (the competition for a Posture Queen in twentieth-century America), and what is patriotic (no slouching in ranks!). How our understanding of posture was part of the history of anatomy and how the history of anatomy crafted our understanding of posture is central to this tale.

Revisiting the Frontispiece: Vesalius’s Jewish Friend and the Impact of the Inquisition
Jeff Levine, and Michael Nevins
The famous public human dissection on the frontispiece of the 1543 Fabrica features a bearded man in the gallery who appears disturbed. Dr. Jeff Levine and Dr. Michael Nevins attribute this distinctive face to Lazarus de Frigeis, whom Vesalius described in the text as his close friend, “the distinguished Jewish physician” who taught him Hebrew words for the bones. The frontispiece was recut for the 1555 second edition and the phrase “distinguished Jewish physician” was deleted. Drs. Levine and Nevins will discuss the relationship between Vesalius and Lazarus and consider whether the anatomist was courting trouble by making a public statement of admiration for a Jew during the Inquisition. They will also analyze differences between the first- and second-edition frontispieces and their meanings. Did they contain coded messages reflecting a spectrum of tensions existing in sixteenth-century Italian society, particularly in the context of European Jewry during the Renaissance —and if so, why?

Renaissance Illustration Techniques Workshop
Marie Dauenheimer, Medical Illustrator
Artists and anatomists passionate about unlocking the mysteries of the human body drove anatomical investigation during the Renaissance. Anatomical illustrations of startling power vividly described and represented the inner workings of the human form. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks were among the most magnificent, merging scientific investigation and beautifully observed drawing. Students will have the opportunity to learn and apply the techniques used by Renaissance artists to illustrate anatomical specimens. Using dip and technical pens, various inks and prepared paper students will investigate, discover, and draw osteology, models, and dissected specimens from various views creating an anatomical plate.




Vesalius Program
Programa Estímulo Vesalius
Anatomia da Arte
A Luz de Vesalius
La luz de Vesalius
Mariano Akerman CV, Data and References







Context and general background considerations

“Anatomy is the foundation of medicine,” the classical Greek physician Hippocrates declared, “and should be based on the form of the human body.” Yet the study of human anatomy was based only on exterior physical examination and the dissection of animals. The taboo on human dissection led to incorrect assumptions and was to dominate anatomical theory up to the end of the 15th century.

Galen. If the work of Hippocrates represents the foundation of Greek medicine, then the work of Galen, who lived six centuries later, is the apex of that tradition. Galen crystallized the best work of the Greek medical schools which had preceded his time. It is essentially in the form of Galenism that Greek medicine was transmitted to the Renaissance scholars.

Galen’s training was eclectic. Although his chief work was in biology and medicine, he was also known as a philosopher and philologist. Training in philosophy was, in Galen’s view, an essential part of the training of a doctor, not merely a pleasant addition. His treatise entitled That the Best Doctor is Also a Philosopher provides a rather surprising ethical reason for the doctor to study philosophy. The profit motive, says Galen, is incompatible with a serious devotion to the art of healing.

Galen, for all his mistakes, remained an unchallenged authority in his lifetime, and his work established a legacy that continued for over a thousand years. In his day Galen said everything there was to be said on anatomy. According to reports he kept as many as 20 scribes on staff to write down his every dictum. When he died in 203 CE, serious anatomical and physiological research ground to a halt.

Although he was not a Christian, Galen’s writings reflect a belief in only one god, and he declared that the body was an instrument of the soul. This made him acceptable both to the fathers of the church and to Arab and Hebrew scholars. Galen’s mistakes perpetuated fundamental errors for nearly fifteen hundred years. Later, Vesalius, the sixteenth century anatomist, began to dispel Galen’s authority, although he regarded his predecessor with esteem.

Because his knowledge was derived for the most part from animal (principally the Barbary ape), rather than human, dissection, Galen made many mistakes, especially concerning the internal organs. In spite of Galen’s mistakes and misconceptions, his writings reveal an astonishing wealth of accurate detail. (Galen, Antiqua Medicina from Homer to Vesalius, University of Virginia, 2007).

It is with the Renaissance that the era of modern anatomical studies begins. A number of developments united at this time to form a genuinely new cultural system that produced revolutions in many disciplines. The invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century supplanted the laborious process of hand copying and illumination, and made possible the comparatively rapid and widespread dissemination of knowledge in the form of identical books with wood-cut prints. The development of perspective in art led to much greater accuracy in the depiction of individuals and scenes, and prompted artists to make careful studies of human anatomy – including dissections – to educate themselves in the precise structure and musculature of the body. Finally, intellectual attitudes began to break away both from the rigid structures imposed by religious doctrine and by uncritical acceptance of ancient authorities – not everywhere, of course – but the empirical testing of theories by observation and experimentation lay the foundations for the scientific advances and documentation of knowledge and our own modern scientific method.

In terms of Renaissance anatomy, the two names most closely associated with the progression toward critical analysis and accuracy are Leonardo da Vinci and Andreas Vesalius. Da Vinci approached anatomy from the point of view of the artist, but his meticulous and inquisitive mind quickly propelled him into an anatomical project for its own sake, unfortunately never published. His more than 750 anatomical drawings – most made from observations of dissections he performed – carried the genre of anatomical illustration to extraordinary refinement.

Vesalius, born in 1514, five years before the death of da Vinci, studied medicine in Paris, Louvain (Belgium) and Padua (Italy), where the faculty named the 23-year-old a Professor of Surgery and anatomy at the completion of his doctorate. Vesalius made a name for himself among his students by descending from the chair to conduct dissections without an intermediary, and earned renown among the faculty and profession by successfully challenging the authority of Galen. He put the ancient master to the critical test and revealed errors in his anatomical theory. A series of six anatomical drawings produced by Vesalius proved so popular with his students that he published them in 1538, and here likely germinated the idea for his masterpiece, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, first published in 1543. This volume paired detailed descriptive text with carefully worked anatomical drawings, both of details and entire bodies, all rendered with extreme accuracy, not the least emphasized by the external supports given the sequence of standing figures who successively lose the capacity to “stand” on their own as the layers of musculature are removed. In the perspective distance behind most of these figures is a continuous cityscape of Padua, a further subtle statement of accuracy or truthfulness in the illustrations, as well as an indication of the important scholarly environment within which Vesalius worked. The frontispiece of the Fabrica likewise shows Vesalius himself at the dissecting table, reinforcing his position as a scholar not hidebound by conventional thinking.

From this point forward, many, many new anatomical titles appeared, some overtly plagiarized from Vesalius, others new studies, but human dissections and the goal of accurate anatomical illustration never again fell away from the medical curriculum (Hal Sharp, A Brief Essay on Anatomical Drawing, University of Virginia, 2007).

Vesalius the Humanist

Modern medicine began in 1543 with the publication of the first complete textbook of human anatomy, De Humanis Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). Vesalius can only be compared with Hippocrates in stature and importance. The great anatomist was a classicist by education. He knew Greek and Latin to perfection. He zealously studied the ancient authors and extolled them. In this sense, Vesalius was a humanist.

De Fabrica is composed in Latin. Few scientists, if any, of the sixteenth century would have presented their findings in the vernacular. But Vesalius renounced the Latin that was spoken and written by scholars of his time. He purified the common stock of words; he abandoned the simple colloquial prose style, the logical sequence of thought characteristic of the scientific literature of that period. Instead, Vesalius reintroduced the terminology of a time long past. He adopted a stately rhythmical style, a rhetorical word order; in short, he was the first anatomist to imitate the periodic Latin Kunstprosa, or “artistic prose” of Cicero.

The Classical Latin style in which Vesalius formulated his findings made it rather difficult for the average physician of his day to understand De Fabrica. Many a contemporary reader have wondered why Vesalius veiled his empirical investigations in the garb of so artificial a language. Yet, Vesalius believed that by recovering true and correct speech, the road was paved for the recovery of true and correct knowledge. Thus, the resurrection of anatomy could only occur hand in hand with the rebirth of the Classics.

Humanists viewed the development of art and literature during the Renaissance as a rebirth of the truth and perfection once possessed by the Greeks in antiquity. Vesalius extended this humanism to include anatomy. He knew from reading Cicero and Celsus that the ancients had dissected human bodies; he learned from Galen that Alexandria had been the center of anatomical research. Modern anatomy was indeed the resurrection of ancient anatomy. (Vesalius the Humanist, Antiqua Medicina from Homer to Vesalius, University of Virginia, 2007).
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