Andreas Vesalius

ANDREAS VESALIUS

DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA LIBRI SEPTEM, 2. AUFLAGE, 1555

A NEW ANATOMY

The work De Humani Corporis Fabrica first appeared in 1543. The title describes anatomy as the structure of the human body. The supplement "Libri Septem" points to the seven parts of the book, which were illustrated with numerous woodcuts.

Vesalius authored the Fabrica when he was only 28 years old, after he had discussed his ideas and findings for many years with his students.

It is a textbook developed from the practical teaching of anatomy and stimulated a lively debate over the contents. Previous teaching, especially that of Galen, had to be reassessed, which sometimes led to vicious reactions from well-known anatomists, including some of Vesalius' own esteemed teachers.

In 1555, the Fabrica appeared in a second, revised edition. In the meantime, Vesalius had dissected many bodies - anatomical dissections had been officially permitted since the late middle ages - and new knowledge had been acquired. He corrected some inaccuracies or misstatements, some findings about the female body and pregnancy. In this edition, the distance from Galen's school has increased perceptibly.

ART IN IMAGE AND SCRIPT

Vesalius' Fabrica may be considered the most famous medical work. It was widely recognized and led to a breakthrough in anatomy. In addition to the careful explanations, the clear classifications and the work's completeness, the professional, markedly elaborate artwork also contributed to this phenomenon.

Several illustrated anatomical treatises and dissection instructions had already been published. The degree of Vesalius' faithfulness to detail in his explanations and illustrations was unknown prior to this, however.

The Fabrica established an artistic representation of dissected bodies which characterized the anatomy atlases for several centuries afterwards. The typesetting of the second edition of 1555 was designed by Claude Garamond, whose name lives on in his now widely used font.

A MILITANT SCHOLAR

Andreas Vesalius was born in 1514, the son of the court apothecary of Karl V in Brussels. He attended the University in Leuven to study philosophy and languages. After four years, he continued his studies in Paris, but in medicine. Due to armed conflict, he returned to Leuven, wrote his doctoral thesis and was appointed professor of surgery and anatomy at Padua.

In 1538, he published the "Tabulae anatomicae sex" to which Jan Stephan van Calcar, a student of Titian, contributed.

In 1540, Vesalius delivered a public disputation on anatomical questions. At this time, he was already working on the Fabrica. He procured corpses which he dissected, and wrote, drew and discussed with experts.

In 1542, the finished printing plates reached the internationally known book printer Johannes Oporinus in Basel. Following the release of the Fabrica in 1543, Vesalius became the personal physician of Karl V, to whom he had dedicated the work. Vesalius travelled from university to university, defending his Fabrica and performing dissections publicly.

During this time, he also married and had a daughter. For several years, he worked on the new edition that appeared in 1555. After that, he moved to Spain where he became the royal personal physician to Philip II. In 1564, he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the return trip, he suffered a shipwreck while apparently very ill and died on the Greek island of Zakynthos.

AUTOPSIES ON EXECUTED CRIMINALS

Andreas Vesalius lived in the age of humanism. Scholars searched for medieval transcripts, but also found errors and re-translated them. The Fabrica names some of Galen's errors but refers largely to his anatomy. In contrast to Paracelsus, who publicly burned Galen's works, Vesalius dealt with them critically.

People's perception of the world experienced profound shocks during the Renaissance. The earth was no longer the centre of the universe, the Christian church split, and God's creation became explorable nature. Vesalius' life and work fall in a time of reorientation, but a time which was also steeped in the Inquisition, magic and deep religiosity. Only executed criminals could be cut open and dissected - therefore, it was difficult to come by dead bodies.

In Vesalius' time, anatomists lectured from ancient and medieval writings during the opening of the corpse, and a dissector pointed to the body parts. Vesalius pleaded for a new procedure, the autopsy, observation with one's own eyes. In Vesalius' lifetime, public dissections took place in or near churches. Beginning in the late 16th century, many universities built their own anatomical theatres for this purpose which are pictured in many illustrations.

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