Skip Navigation Bar
 
Skeleton of a boy sitting on the 'D' of 'Dream', from Francesco Bertinatti, Elementi di anatomia fisiologica applicata alle belle arti figurative (Turin, 1837-39).  Artist: Mecco Leone. Lithograph
Introduction Anatomical Dreamtime Getting Real Visionary and Visible Gallery Learning Station Exhibit Information Exhibition Program Site Map History of Medicine Division National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Dream Anatomy Home

Anatomical Arts and Sciences

In 1543 Andreas Vesalius produced De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the first profusely illustrated anatomy book. A brilliant dissector, the 28-year-old Vesalius insisted that reliable knowledge derives from examination of cadavers, not ancient texts. He subjected the old anatomical treatises to a rigorous test: a comparison with direct observations of the dissected body. De Fabrica became the founding text of modern anatomy, and inspired a host of successors. Like Vesalius, they compared their results with existing texts, corrected errors, and produced new texts with illustrations. The production of images based on dissection became a central component of scientific anatomy.

Vesalius dissects a cadaver in the center of a crowded anatomical theater, while Death hovers over the scene. Before De Fabrica, depictions of dissection had the anatomist presiding at some distance from the cadaver, while lower ranking barber-surgeons did the dirty work of dissecting. Cropped, from Andreas Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543), titlepage. Woodcut. Artists: Stephen van Calcar and the Workshop of Titian.
Colored figure of a man, showing veins and arteries, cropped, from Bartolomeo Eustachi, Romanae archetypae tabulae anatomicae novis (Rome, 1783). Hand colored copperplate engraving. Artist: Giulio de’Musi
Dissected cadaver, with ribcage opened to show spine, rests against a wall. Cropped, from Andreas Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543). Woodcut. Artists: Stephen van Calcar and the Workshop of Titian.


Anatomical Primitives
Cadavers at Play
Anatomical Arts and Sciences

Next Topic: Body Part as Body Art
Show-off Cadavers

Next Section: Getting Real

Andreas Vesalius and the art of scientific anatomy

Portrait of Andreas Vesalius. Cropped, from Andreas Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543). Woodcut. Artists: Stephen van Calcar and the Workshop of Titian.

Andreas Vesalius collected and presented his findings in De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), a book of more than 600 pages, with beautifully detailed woodcuts by artists from the workshop of Titian. The illustrations set a new standard for accuracy, while drawing on a variety of contemporary genres of visual representation: naturalism, classicism, metaphor, landscape, death imagery and monstrosity.

Vesalius‘s progeny

De Fabrica inspired other anatomists to attempt their own books.

Juan Valverde de Amusco studied with Realdo Columbo, Vesalius’s pupil and successor. His Historia de la composición del cuerpo humano (1556) was the first anatomy published in Spanish. Valverde used Vesalius’s work as a departure for his own anatomical visions, which humorously played on identifications of self and other, and matter and spirit.

The viscera dissected through a suit of Roman armor. Cropped, from Juan Valverde de Amusco, Anatomia del corpo humano... (Rome, 1559). Copperplate engraving.
Colored figure of a man with his hand at his forehead, showing muscles, cropped, from Bartolomeo Eustachi, Romanae archetypae tabulae anatomicae novis (Rome, 1783). Hand colored copperplate engraving. Artist: Giulio de’Musi

Bartolomeo Eustachi (also known as Eustachius) was court physician to the Duke of Urbino and Cardinal Giulio della Rovere. In 1552 he prepared a series of playful anatomical plates that featured figures placed inside a box with graduated measurements to help readers identify the location and scale of the parts. Most of the plates were discovered and published after his death in 1714.

Colored figure of a man, showing his back, with his hand on his hip, showing skeletal structure, cropped, from Bartolomeo Eustachi, Romanae archetypae tabulae anatomicae novis (Rome, 1783). Hand colored copperplate engraving. Artist: Giulio de’Musi
Colored figure of a man, showing his front, saluting with his hand hip, showing skeletal structure, cropped, from Bartolomeo Eustachi, Romanae archetypae tabulae anatomicae novis (Rome, 1783). Hand colored copperplate engraving. Artist: Giulio de’Musi