Versalius at Work

The Age of Anatomy

Andreas Vesalius 1514 –1564


The study of anatomy really kicked off with Andreas Vesalius, although the great painters and artists like Leonardo Da vinci lent a hand with a pencil or brush.
Andreas Vesalius a Flemish physician was born in Brussels in 1543 into a medical family and was encouraged from an early age to read about medical ideas and practice. He studied at Louvain University.
The major developments that Vesalius made in medical theory came as a result of his work in Padua. He moved there after falling out with his professor in Louvain.
In Padua, Vesalius conducted his own dissections: unheard of at the time, and made detailed notes and drawings.
Many who felt that drawings had little place in a scientific field frowned upon this practice. He continued however and in 1538 published a collection of labelled drawings entitled ‘Tabulae Sex’.136
He published seven books entitled De Humani Corpus Fabrica (The workings of the human body) in which he refuted Galen’s idea of anatomy.
This became the basis of the modern observational approach to anatomy. This dwarf of a man was said to have stolen the bodies or parts of the bodies of criminals who had been publicly executed and left to rot for all to see. If he had been caught he too would have been executed. 
Surgery and anatomy were then considered of little importance in comparison to the other branches of medicine. However, Vesalius believed that surgery had to be grounded in anatomy.
Unusually, he always performed dissections himself and produced anatomical charts of the blood and nervous systems as a reference aid for his students, which were widely copied.

Vesalius contribution to the medical profession was comparable to Pares contribution to surgery. He died quite young In 1564, after he left for a trip to the Holy Land but died on 15 October on the Greek island of Zakynthos during the journey home supposedly in a shipwreck off the Greek coast if he had lived longer his contribution would, I am sure, have been far greater.
Andreas Vesalius textbook on anatomy, was one of first to be printed by the Caxton Press. 


I will pass over the other arts in silence and direct my words for a while to that which is responsible for the health of mankind; certainly, of all the arts that human genius has discovered, this is by far the most useful, indispensable, difficult, and laborious.” 137




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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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