Andreas Vesalius: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

You may not know of Andreas Vesalius, but his work highly progressed medical knowledge of the human body. In this lesson, find out who he was and why he was so important to medicine and even Darwin!

Andreas Vesalius

For well over a thousand years, the medical theories put forth by the Greco-Roman physician Galen were considered to be gospel in the world of medicine. But along came Andreas Vesalius who, like Copernicus and Newton, decided to correct centuries of misconception. Except Vesalius wasn't an astronomer or physicist, he was a physician.

Let's find out more about his life in this lesson.

Early Life & Education

Andreas Vesalius, or Andries Van Wesel, was born in December of 1514 in Brussels, modern-day Belgium. This was part of the Duchy of Brabant at the time and, during his life, the city was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Vesalius came from a family of medical practitioners, namely pharmacists and physicians. His father Anders was an apothecary at the court of Emperor Charles V.

From 1529-1533, he attended the Catholic University of Leuven where he studied the arts and classical languages, but he wasn't really interested in all that. As he once wrote later in his life:

'I will pass over the other arts in silence and direct my words for a while to that which is responsible for the health of mankind; certainly of all the arts that human genius has discovered, this is by far the most useful, indispensable, difficult, and laborious.'

And so, from 1533 to 1536, Vesalius attended the University of Paris to study medicine. Here, he was a keen and very observant dissector of animals, something that would prove immensely fruitful in his later work of disproving Galenic medical thought.

Later, Vesalius enrolled at the best medical school at the time, the University of Padua. In 1537, he earned his doctorate of medicine from the school.

Career & Later Life

From hereon, Vesalius was given the task of lecturing on surgery and anatomy. In fact, he became chair of surgery and anatomy. Impressive, right? Not really. Back then, surgery and anatomy weren't considered to be very important compared to other branches of medicine.


Vesalius's work and publications allowed him to later become the physician to Charles V around 1543, the Holy Roman Emperor. In the process, he ended up burning much of his work and notes, thinking he'd never want to return to academia upon taking up such a tremendous opportunity. This was something he apparently later regretted. Nevertheless, he ended up acquiring great wealth and a large home as a result of his work and medical practice. He even got a lifetime pension and became a count!

After Charles V abdicated the throne, Vesalius went to Spain to become court physician to Phillip II around 1559. Phillip II was Charles V's son. Apparently, Vesalius didn't like it much here and complained that he didn't have a very happy life and that he couldn't perform his work as well as he used to, most likely due to the strict religious restrictions on using human bodies for dissection.

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