December 31, 1514 - Vesalius

By Ben Saunders

Andreas Vesalius was born in Brussels in December 1514. He was born into a family of pharmacists and physicians.  He went to the Catholic University of Leuven from 1529 – 1533. Then he attended the medical school at the University of Paris from 1533-1536. This is where he started his study of anatomy by dissecting animals. Later he got a chance to dissect human corpses and became fascinated with studying human bones. Later in 1537 he went to the University of Padua which was a university known for its history of anatomical dissection. He received his M.D. in 1537. In December of 1537 he graduated. Soon after the senate of Venice, Italy appointed Vesalius as professor of surgery at the University of Padua and he took the new job.

Vesalius was extremely interested in human anatomy and during his career he dissected multiple human corpses. Near the end of 1538 after many human dissections, Vesalius had many intricate notes and sketches about human anatomy. During his tenure at Padua, Vesalius took a trip to Venice Italy when he met an apprentice to a renaissance painter. This apprentice printed a few of Vesalius’s drawings onto woodblock prints. These prints of anatomical drawings of the human body were reproduced and distributed in large quantities. Later Vesalius used the woodblock prints to help him illustrate his book about human anatomy. Vesalius’s book was published in 1543, the title is “De humani corporis fabrica libri septem” which translated to “On the fabric of the human body in seven books”. On multiple occasions in his book, Vesalius noted the differences between his observations from his drawings of human anatomy compared to Galenic observations which were accepted as true during the time.  Although he was criticized by many others of the medical field for criticizing the galenic teachings, he was also praised by some for critiquing galenic teachings. Later after the “Fabrica” was published Vesalius published another small book with 11 woodblock prints of the skeleton, muscles, nerves, veins, and arteries. After publishing this small book in 1544 he ended his tenure at the University of Padua and destroyed his notes and sketches. Vesalius became the physician of the court of King Charles V. Later he re-edited his work and corrected some of his mistakes and published the second version of the “Fabrica” in 1555. Although in Spain their ways of medicine prohibited Vesalius from dissecting another corpse. Vesalius left the court and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1564 and during his return to Venice he died of a sickness on the Island of Zakynthos in Greece. He died at age 49 in the latter part of the year 1564.

Vesalius was an important figure of the enlightenment because he used his observations, knowledge, and drawings of human anatomy to prove that the Galen observations about human anatomy were not as accurate as once thought. Vesalius believed that anatomists should have hands-on knowledge about human anatomy, by this, he meant it should be necessary for all anatomists to have actually dissected a real human, so they understand how the human body works. His ideas changed human anatomy forever.


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Florkin, Marcel. “Andreas Vesalius.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last modified April 23, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.


Guthrie, Douglas James, and Robert G. Richardson. “History of Medicine.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last modified January 23, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.