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Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)

Tabulae Anatomicae Sex

The first great challenge to Galenic orthodoxy in the description of the human body came with Andreas Vesalius, described by Garrison as the ‘most commanding figure in European medicine after Galen and before Harvey’. At fifteen Vesalius enrolled at the University of Louvain to study the liberal arts, traveling in 1533 to Paris to pursue the study of medicine and anatomy under Jacobus Sylvius and Johann Guinther, both exponents of the Galenic school. In the preface of the De humani corporis fabrica, he states that during his studies at Paris he had himself dissected a corpse in the presence of undergraduates.

Owing to the war between France and the forces of the Emperor, he was obliged to leave France, and returned to Louvain where he conducted an anatomical demonstration before the medical and other faculties. Vesalius completed his medical training at Padua, where in 1537, after due examination, he was appointed as teacher in surgery and anatomy, a position he held until 1544.

For the benefit of his students and at their request, these six plates constitute Vesalius’ first anatomical publication, and set a new standard in anatomical illustration. Only two complete sets of the original edition exist, one in the Bibliotheca Nazionale Marciana, and the copy on display, which was presented to the Hunterian Museum by Sir John Stirling Maxwell.

The three sketches of the vascular system below were made by Vesalius himself. However, despite their artistic quality, they still belong essentially to the old Anatomy showing the five lobed liver, the venous system arising from the liver, the long protruding coccyx of the ape, etc.

Click on thumbnails for larger images.

These sketches below of the skeleton were made under Vesalius’ direction by Joannes Stephanus of Calcar and were based upon his first dissection at Padua as a professional anatomist.