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 Versalius
Andreas Versalius
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 thereafter 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.
Anatomical Drawing
Tabulae Sex
There were 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".1
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 2 ; 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.

versalius at work
Versalius at Work
Vesalius contribution to the medical profession was comparable to Parés contribution to surgery.
He left for a trip to the Holy Land in 1564 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.” 3

He stated, “I strive that in public dissection the students do as much as possible so that if even the least trained of them must dissect a cadaver before a group of spectators, he will be able to perform it accurately with his own hands; and by comparing their studies one with another they will properly understand, this part of medicine”.

William Harvey 1578-1657

William Harvey was born in 1578 in Folkstone, Kent. Harvey studied at Caius College, Cambridge before he enrolled at the University of Padua in 1598.
William Harvey
William Harvey
At the time when Harvey was a student at Padua, Galileo was a tutor there and there is little doubt that he was highly influenced by the Galilean way of thinking that enthused the university as a whole. Harvey learned about the human body by dissection and anatomical observation. 4

Harvey’s primary tutor at Padua was Fabrizio d’Acquapendente, who was the first person to clearly describe the valves in the veins.
So, it was that William Harvey studied at the University of Padua in Italy where he studied the work of Vesalius.
He received his medical degree in 1602 and subsequently returned to England where he started to practice medicine in the London area. He took up appointment as a doctor at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

Harvey rapidly gained prominence. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1607 and remained active in the college throughout his life.
In 1618 he became physician to King James I, a sign of his eminence in the profession and a measure of the useful social connections he gained through his marriage to Elizabeth Browne, daughter of a physician who served both Queen Elizabeth I and King James 1.5

The success he was to achieve as one of the most prestigious doctors, in London he attended King James 1 during his final illness. Harvey then became physician to his son Charles 1. 6
Between 1615 to 1656, Harvey worked as Luleian lecturer for the Royal College of Physicians.
Harvey continued to serve the royal family all his life.

For hundreds of years, people thought that the heart made blood from food and water, and the body absorbed it. This English doctor William Harvey proved that Galen was wrong and so made one of the most famous of medical discoveries; he showed that the heart recycles blood and acts as a pump to circulate it throughout the body.
He also discovered the heart valves and Harvey realised that these valves stopped the blood from travelling back the wrong way to the heart.
Harvey's work received a great deal of criticism from his contemporaries who distrusted any ideas which contradicted the established theories of Galen, especially as Harvey's findings brought into question the widespread practice of blood-letting.
This was carried out because it was believed illness was sometimes caused by there being too much blood in the system.
At first, Harvey's ideas were so controversial, some of his patients left his practice. However, despite many still not believing his findings his fame spread throughout Europe and his contribution became widely recognised.6

In 1628, Harvey published details of his work in his book entitled "An Anatomical Disquisition on the Movement of the Heart and Blood".7

Harvey retained a close relationship with the royal family during the English Civil War and personally witnessed the Battle of Edgehill. Charles 1 pulled strings for him to become the warden of Merton College, Oxford (1645 - 1646).8
He died in London in 1657 aged 79.
He has been quoted as saying , "The heart of animals is the foundation of their life, the sovereign of everything within them, the sun of their microcosm, that upon which all growth depends, from which all power proceeds."9


1 Andreas Vesalius, De Humani Corporus Fabrica
9 William Harvey

Ken True ODP