Vesalius Anatomical Illustrations (Northwestern University)

Designer unknown Venetian, attributed to workshop of Titian; Tertia septimi libri figura, Third figure of the seventh book, first edition 1543; second edition 1555. Image and data provided by Daniel H. Garrison.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) was an anatomist, physician, and the author of a pioneering treatise on human anatomy, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body). First published in 1543, and substantially revised in 1555, the Fabrica is a superbly illustrated atlas of the human body, informed by Vesalius' experience with autopsies and dissection. This approach marked a shift in medical education away from a reliance on Ancient authorities like Galen, towards the direct observation of the human body. While the artist who produced the Fabrica's woodcuts is unknown, they are masterpieces of Renaissance printmaking. Further, these illustrations became the basis of medical art and illustration for generations to come, and transformed attitudes and perceptions of the human body throughout the Western world. As such, they were, arguably, more influential than the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, which remained unpublished for centuries, while the Fabrica was widely distributed throughout Europe.  

For the past ten years, two scholars at Northwestern University — Daniel Garrison, Professor of Classics and Malcolm Hast, Professor Emeritus of Otolaryngology — have been working on the first English translation of the Fabrica. With assistance from Northwestern University library and academic technology staff, the first book of their annotated translation was published online in 2003: http://vesalius.northwestern.edu. As part of their ongoing project, digital scans of the diagrams and anatomical illustrations were produced from a facsimile of the 1543 edition. [Sadly, the original wood blocks were destroyed during the Allied bombing of Munich in 1943.] Over 200 images, depicting individual bones and organs, entire systems, and the famous “muscle men” posing dramatically against Renaissance landscapes, are now available in Artstor. These images are accompanied by scholarly information, including modern anatomical names for all parts mentioned in the original Latin text, also contributed by Garrison and Hast.