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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

Beginnings of Anatomical Illustrations can be conducted in a media center/computer laboratory or as an independent project.

Subjects: History of Medicine, Visual Arts, and Language Arts

Grades: 9-12 grades

Brief Description:

Students will conduct a comparative study of two categories of anatomical illustrations (pre-Modern and Vesalian) by evaluating several images and their narratives from the online Dream Anatomy exhibition.


  • Learn about and evaluate the "pre-Modern" and Vesalian anatomical illustrations and their narratives online.
  • Compare the illustrations and note the similarities and differences between the two categories of illustrations.
  • Identify specific contributions of the anatomist, Andrea Vesalius.


Treatise, Iconography, Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica


Paper, pencil/pen, flip chart or overhead projector


Media center or computer lab where each student or 2-3 student have access to the Dream Anatomy web site.

Lesson Plan:

  1. Engage students in discussions about the importance of anatomical knowledge.
  2. Note students' responses on the flip chart.
  3. Tell students that they will explore the beginnings of anatomical illustrations using an exhibition called "Dream Anatomy," and share with students the following introductory remark by the curator:
    "Who we are beneath the skin amazes and scares us, entertains, repels, fascinates, inspires. Since around 1500 A.D., when illustrations of human anatomy first appeared in print, artists have employed fantastic settings, bizarre juxtapositions, antic poses, intense colors, and fanciful metaphors to display scientific knowledge of the body and its interior - a dream anatomy that reveals as much about the outer world as it does the inner self."

    -Michael Sappol, Ph.D.
  4. Put students in groups of 2-3 (optional) and provide each group with the following instructions:
    1. Visit the "Anatomical Primitives" and "Anatomical Arts and Sciences" sections in the Dream Anatomy exhibition.
    2. Read the texts in each section and list main ideas related to each section. Compare the main ideas of the two sections and note their similarities and differences.
    3. View images in each section and note how each image illustrates the ideas presented in the main statement of the section. List characteristics of each illustration-accuracy, purposes, origin of the anatomy, etc.
    4. Compare the main ideas and images of the two sections and note their similarities and differences.
    5. Identify specific contributions of the anatomist, Andreas Vesalius.
  5. Ask each group to write a paper (3 pages) describing their findings from the studies conducted above.

Assessment: Each group will submit a 3-page paper and make a 10-minute presentation to the class to share their findings.

Extension Activity: Conduct additional research online to learn about Andreas Vesalius and early anatomical teachings in universities using such web sites as: