Andreas Vesalius

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Andreas Vesalius published precise observations re: human anatomy in "De Fabrica Corporis Humani" 1543
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Andreas Vesalius (1514 — 1564), Flemish anatomist, physician and author of 1543 book on human anatomy, was also known as Andries Van Wesel. Born into a medical family in Brussels, Vesalius showed a keen interest as a boy in the dissection of animals. He attended the University of Louvain to study anatomy, and later the University of Paris (1533-1536). He completed his medical studies at the University of Padua, and was professor of anatomy there from 1537-1542. One of his major contributions to anatomy education was bringing medical students closer to the operating table for surgical observation and dissection. He challenged the principles of Galenic medicine, and his students were shown why Galen's ideas about a bi-ventricular human heart were incorrect. The human heart has four chambers (two atria and two chambers).

In 1543, Vesalius published the groundbreaking "De Humani Corporis Fabrica", an anatomy text based mostly on human dissection. His work transformed anatomy into a subject that relied on observations taken directly from human dissections. Vesalius eventually left anatomical research to take up medical practice, becoming physician to the imperial court of Emperor Charles V. In 1555, he went into service for Charles' son, Philip II of Spain. In 1564, he travelled to the Holy Land but died on 15 October 1564 on the Greek island of Zakynthos during the journey home.

The physician Matteo Realdo Colombo, viewed by historians as either Vesalius' rival or his student, continued to make important discoveries about the circulation of blood and respiration. Columbo apparently corrected some of Vesalius' work creating animosity in anatomy circles, not unlike what Vesalius had generated in his criticism of Galen.

Pre-Vesalius anatomy

The field of anatomy, one of the most ancient sciences, began in Ancient Egypt. From the Early Dynastic Period (3100 BC) until Galen, Egypt was the centre of knowledge about anatomy. Knowledge of neuroanatomy became so important that rituals were performed by embalmers during mummification. It was also later a science to be studied by wise men at the temple of Memphis. As religious conflict took root, study of the human body became forbidden. Myths began to replace scientific research, and exploration of the human body stalled until Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria. This period witnessed a revolution in the study of anatomy and functional anatomy. Herophilus of Chalcedon, Erasistratus of Chios, Rufus of Ephesus, and Galen were prominent physicians who studied at Alexandria and contributed to knowledge about human anatomy. After the Library of Alexandria was burned and laws were passed prohibiting human dissection based on religious and cultural factors, knowledge of human anatomy plateaued for 1500 years.

Key websites & video


  • O'Malley CD. Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564. Berkley: University of California Press, 1964.
  • Porter R. Vesalius. the biographical dictionary of scientists. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University P, 1994.
  • Saunders JB, O'Malley CD. The illustrations from the works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels. New York: Dover, 1973 [reprint].
  • Vesalius Andreas. On the Fabric of the Human Body. Translated by W. F. Richardson and J. B. Carman. 5 vols. San Francisco and Novato: Norman Publishing, 1998–2009.
  • University of Toronto displays influential 450-year-old anatomy book in free public exhibition. Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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