About Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) was a Belgian anatomist and physician whose dissections of the human body and descriptions of his finding helped to correct misconceptions prevailing since ancient times.

Vesalius was born in Brussels and attended the University of Louvain and later the University of Paris, where he studied from 1533 to 1536. At Paris he studied medicine and developed an interset in anatomy. With further study at the University of Padua in 1537 Vesalius obtained his medical degree and a job as a lecturer on surgery. During his research Vesalius showed that the anatomical teachings of Galen, revered in medical schools, was based upon the dissections of animals even though they were meant as a guide to the human body.

Vesalius wrote the revolutionary texts, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, which were seven volumes on the structure of the human body. The volumes were completely illustrated with fine engravings based on his own drawings. These were the most accurate and comprehensive anatomical texts to date and led to his appointment as physician to Holy Roman emporer Charles V. After Charles V resigned his son, Philip II, appointed Vesalius to his staff of physicians in 1559. After several years at the imperial court in Madrid, Vesalius made a voyage to the Holy Land. On the voyage home in 1564, he died in a shipwreck off of the island of Zacynthus

The patronage in his life

Vesalius published the De Fabrica, a groundbreaking work of human anatomy and dedicated the book to Charles V. A few weeks later he published an abridged edition for students and dedicated it to Philip II of Spain, son of the Emperor.

Charles V

Soon after the publication of De Fabrica, Vesalius was invited to become the imperial physician to the court of Emperor Charles V, where he traveled with the court over the next twelve years. Charles V, on abdication from the Spanish throne in 1556, provided him with a lifetime pension and made him a count and Vesalius continued working for the court under Charles's son, Philip II.

Phillip II

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (On the fabric of the human body in seven books) is a textbook of human anatomy written by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) in 1543.

The book is based on his Paduan lectures, during which he deviated from common practice by dissecting a corpse to illustrate what he was discussing. It presents a careful examination of the organs and the complete structure of the human body. This would not have been possible without the many advances that had been made during the Renaissance, including both the artistic developments and the technical development of printing. Because of this, he was able to produce illustrations superior to any that had been produced up to then.

Fabrica rectified some of Galen's worst errors, including the notion that the great blood vessels originated from the liver. Even with his improvements, however, Vesalius clung to some of Galen's errors, such as the idea that there was a different type of blood flowing through veins than arteries. It was not until William Harvey's work on the circulation of the blood that this misconception of Galen would be rectified in Europe.

Vesalius had the work published at the age of 28, taking great pains to ensure its quality. The illustrations are of great artistic merit and are generally attributed by modern scholars to the "studio of Titian" rather than Johannes Stephanus of Calcar, who provided drawings for Vesalius' earlier tracts, but in a much inferior style. The woodcuts were greatly superior to the illustrations in anatomical atlases of the day, which were often made by anatomy professors themselves. The woodcuts were transported to Basel, Switzerland, as Vesalius wished that the work be published by one of the foremost printers of the time, Joannis Oporini.

The success of Fabrica ensured the health of Vesalius' coffers, and in time, fame. He was appointed physician to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V; Vesalius had dedicated the work to the ruler, and presented him with the first published copy (bound in silk of imperial purple, with specially hand-painted illustrations not found in any other copy). The Fabrica was republished in 1555.

A copy of the book clad in human skin was donated to Brown University's John Hay Library by an alumnus. Its cover is "polished to a smooth golden brown" and, according to those who have seen the book, it looks like fine leather. Covering books in human skin was not an uncommon practice a couple of centuries ago, utilizing the skin of executed convicts and poor people who died with no one to claim the body.[1]

Of pharmacological interest, Fabrica mentions Digitalis, which is still an important Inotropic Agent used to treat congestive heart failure.

[Source: Wikipedia]


Andreas Vesalius

De Humani Corporis Fabrica