Science in the Arts

Andreas Vesalius: His Science, Teaching, and
Exceptional Books
Marek H. Dominiczak*

Andreas Vesalius (1514 –1564) is one of the greatest gravings (6, 7 ). The different volumes address the skel-
anatomists of all time. His lasting recognition is due to eton, the muscles, the vascular and the nervous sys-
two major achievements: being instrumental in mak- tems, the abdomen, the thorax, and the brain (1 ). The
ing anatomy an empirical science and presenting the book devoted to the muscles contained a series of im-
results of his work in an extraordinarily innovative ages showing successively uncovered muscular layers.
way. The latter is also his connection with the arts. Notably, the human figures were presented in natu-
Vesalius was born in Brussels. He started his educa- ral, rather than schematic, poses. There clearly was
tion in Leuven, attended the University of Paris, and com- an aim to produce a publication with artistic value.
pleted his studies at the University of Padua (1, 2 ). From The publication of De Humani Corporis Fabrica was
1405 Padua was in the territory of the Venetian Republic, accompanied by the abridged version, the De Hu-
by far the strongest of the Renaissance city-states (3 ). mani Corporis Librorum Epitome, which was in-
Venice was also a major center of the arts, with artists such tended for students (8 ). There was also a German
as Jacopo, Gentile, and Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, and translation of the Epitome.
Titian (1488/90 –1576), who was then regarded as the Vesalius identified errors in Galen’s texts, particu-
greatest painter in Europe. In their art, the Venetians em- larly the fact that Galenic anatomy was based on ani-
phasized the use of color, in contrast to line, which was mal, not human, dissections. He strongly argued his
dominant in Florentine painting. points with other professors of anatomy, including his
Medical knowledge at that time was based on texts own teacher Jacques du Bois, known as Sylvius. Yet, he
rather than empirical observations. The foundations for remained an exponent of Galenic teleological proto-
the practice of medicine were still the writings of a Roman physiology. All in all, Vesalius’s systematic criticism of
physician, Galen (129 to c 230), whose views had domi- Galen is his greatest contribution to science: it made
nated it for over 1300 years (4 ). During the Renaissance, anatomy an empirical discipline.
the humanists’ interest in the human body stimulated Vesalius created the drawings for the Tabulae
progress in anatomy, and anatomical treatises began to together with a Flemish artist, Jan Stephan van Cal-
appear at the beginning of the 16th century. car (1499 –1546/50). Van Calcar, born in Cleves (to-
At Padua, Vesalius taught anatomy and surgery. day’s Germany), became a pupil of Titian in 1536
He focused the teaching of anatomy on dissection of (9 ). Although no name of the artist–illustrator is
human cadavers, and taught by personal demonstra- mentioned in De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the as-
tion. To support his teaching he began to publish ana- sumption remains that much of it, if not all, is also
tomical illustrations. The first were the Tabulae Ana- van Calcar’s work.
tomicae Sex (The Six Anatomical Pictures) printed in Apart from their scientific and educational value,
Venice in 1538, a compilation of drawings he used the De Humani Corporis Fabrica and the Epitome are
in teaching (5 ). The Tabulae became immensely unique as books. They are precursors of book design
popular—and were extensively plagiarized. that, as shown in Fig. 1, integrates images and descrip-
Vesalius’s main book, however, was De Humani tive text. De Humani Corporis Fabrica is now regarded
Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (On the Fabric of the Hu- as one of the most influential books ever published.
man Body in Seven Volumes), printed in 1543 by Jo- The story of Vesalius combines revolutionary re-
hannes Oporinus in Basel, using woodblocks prepared focusing of a major medical discipline, anatomy, with
in either in Padua or Venice. It contains over 600 en- innovative teaching methods and equally innovative
publishing techniques. Thus, it addresses all major ac-
ademic functions. Interestingly, this multifaceted
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow,
achievement emerged from an environment that in-
UK. cluded a leading university in Padua, and an extraordi-
* Address correspondence to the author at: College of Medical, Veterinary and nary center of the arts that was Venice. Altogether, it is
Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK. Fax ⫹44-141-211-3452;
e-mail yet another testimony to the benefits of collaboration
Received August 19, 2013; accepted August 20, 2013. between science and the arts.

Clinical Chemistry 59:11 (2013) 1687

France/Archives Charmet/The Bridgeman Art Library. Note the integration of the image with textual descriptions—a highly innovative layout at the time. Paris. Bibliotheque de la Faculte de Medecine. published in Basel. ©Reproduced with permission. Science in the Arts Fig. Black and white photograph. illustration from De Humani Corporis Fabrica Librorum Epitome by Andreas Vesalius (1514 –1564). Andreas Vesalius. Flemish School (16th century). 1543 (engraving). 1. Anatomical study. 1688 Clinical Chemistry 59:11 (2013) .

wikipedia. History of the University of Padua. 1987. declared any potential conflicts of interest. cessed August 2013). eds. history. DOI: 10. Abrams. p 250 – 61. p 176 – 86. 3. http://special. Medicine: Clinical Chemistry 59:11 (2013) 1689 . Lyons AS. eds. the intellectual content of this paper and have met the following 3 or revising the article for intellectual De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libro- Acknowledgments: My thanks to Jacky Gardiner for her excellent rum Epitome. In: Lyons AS. 4. Petrucelli RJ Author Contributions: All authors confirmed they have contributed to (Accessed August 2013).html (Accessed August 2013). 1999.htm (Ac- secretarial assistance. codex99. 8. The greatest benefit to mankind: a medical history of humanity from antiquity to the present. Medicine: an illustrated quirements: (a) significant contributions to the conception and design. 1987. (Accessed References August 2013). Petrucelli RJ II. University of Glasgow Special Collections. Porter R. London: Fontana Press. or analysis and interpretation of data. Vesalius: introduction. British Library Online Gallery.zol. 9. Abrams. p 399 – 423. De Humani Corporis Fabrica. In: Lyons AS.Science in the Arts an illustrated history. the published article.unipd. http://www.html (Accessed August 2013). http://en.2012. New York: Harry N. Petrucelli RJ II. 6. The Tabulae Anatomicae 1538. New York: Harry N.gla. (b) drafting ttp/vesalius/accessible/introduction. http://www. Andreas Vesalius.199968 2.lib. 1. Authors’ Disclosures or Potential Conflicts of Interest: No authors 7.html#content (Accessed August 2013). Jan Steven van Calcar. acquisition of data. Codex Art and science. and (c) final approval of body_tabulae.1373/clinchem.