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Vesalius, Andreas. De corporis humani fabrica libri septem. (Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543).

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), a native of Brussels, was descended from a family of prominent physicians in city of Wesel in the Duchy of Cleves. As a young man, he studied medicine in Montpellier and Paris and later moved to Louvain to teach anatomy. After serving as an army surgeon in France, he moved to Padua in 1537, where he became a professor of anatomy. In 1543, his famous De corporis humani fabrica libri septem (Seven books on the fabric of the human body) was published, for which he gained both fame and notoriety. That same year he was called to the court of Charles V, for whom he served as a court physician. He traveled Europe, from Brussels and Basel to Madrid and the court of Philip II of Spain. He later took up a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but while in Cyprus he was called back to Padua to take an honored chair in anatomy. On his return, he was shipwrecked on the Greek island of Zante and died there on October 15, 1564.

Vesalius' De corporis humani fabrica libri septem is one of the most influential medical texts ever printed, not only because of the scientific methods used to produce it, but because of the artistic renderings of the anatomist's findings. Although he relied heavily upon Galen, at times translating his words exactly, Vesalius performed his own careful dissections and observed the body in great detail, confirming and refuting many of Galen's anatomical and physiological tenets. His peers reacted strongly to his decision to question Galen, and he received praise and condemnation.

The famous woodcut illustrations of De fabrica influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries and were often copied outright. Jan Stephan Calkar (d. 1568) created a set of similar images for Vesalius's 1538 work, Tabulae anatomicae sex, and is credited with the portrait of Vesalius which appears in De fabrica. He was once thought to have been the sole illustrator, but subsequent scholarship has shown that the work is that of several different artists. While Vesalius certainly performed many of the sketches himself, the unknown artists are now only known collectively as "the workshop of Titian." A number of important works have been published on Vesalius and De fabrica, and scholarship in the field is still active.

Further Reading:

Cushing, H. A Bio-Bibliography of Andreas Vesalius. (New York: Schuman's, 1943).

Saunders, J.B. de C.M. and O'Malley, C. The Anatomical Drawings of Andreas Vesalius. (New York: Crown Publishers, 1982).

Vesalius, A. De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. (Palo Alto, CA : Octavo, 1998). 2 CD-ROMs. Includes a digitized facsimile of the 1543 Basel edition and a commentary by Katharine Park. Text is searchable and displays may be magnified up to 300%.

Vesalius, A. On the Fabric of the Human Body: A Translation of De corporis humani fabrica by William Frank Richardson. (San Francisco: Norman Publishing, 1998- ; ongoing).