In the De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), the most famous anatomist of the Renaissance, described the human body with a previously unprecedented level of detail. Partly inspired by Leonardo, Vesalius strongly relied on the experiences of his dissections.
The book contains descriptions and illustrations of the structure, functioning, and pathology of the human body, with its various parts named in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The author also included the opinions of other anatomists into his work.
The more than 250 illustrations are of great artistic merit and are generally attributed by modern scholars to the “studio of Titian”, especially his former apprentice Jan Stephan van Calcar.
They portray the human body in progressive stages of dissection, set before a landscape and posed according to the Renaissance taste for Classical sculpture. In one plate, for example, a skeleton rests its elbow on a tomb with its skull bent in contemplation of mortality.
The woodcuts were greatly superior to the illustrations of anatomical atlases of the day, which were never made by anatomy professors themselves.
Vesalius’ works are based on his lectures at the University of Padua, during which he personally dissected corpses to illustrate what he was discussing. Dissections had previously been performed by a barber-surgeon under the direction of a doctor of medicine, who was expected not to perform any manual labor.
Andreas Vesalius’ masterpiece would not have been achieved without the many improvements of the Renaissance, including both artistic developments in visual representation and technical developments of printing refined woodcut engravings.
- Images courtesy of the British Library
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Andreas Vesalius: De Humani Corporis Fabrica": Andreas Vesalius: De Humani Corporis Fabrica facsimile edition, published by Pytheas Books, 2004Request Info / Price