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Andreas Vesalius: Discoveries & Accomplishments

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

Underestimated genius who applied practices that where way ahead his time or barbaric practitioner: which one was Andreas Vesalius? Learn all about this anatomist and doctor in this lesson.

Biography of Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius was a Flemish anatomist and doctor who was born in Brussels in 1514. Do you know why he deserves a special place in medical history?

Antonius Vesalius, 1543
Vesalius Portrait

Most knowledge about human anatomy in Vesalius' time was based on ancient texts by Claudius Galen, a Greek physician who lived between 130 and 210 AD. Despite the facts that much time had passed since Galen lived and that his texts often showed differences with observed realities of the human body, Galen's theories remained the common standard in medical practice.

Vesalius publicly noted and documented his anatomical discoveries, which differed from Galen's and contributed a lot to our medical knowledge and development of the medical practice. Let's look at Vesalius' work in more depth.

Discoveries

Vesalius distinguished himself from his colleagues because he performed dissections on human corpses. In the 16th century, this was unusual because dissecting humans went against spiritual beliefs; thus, the the church did not approve of this practice. Considering that the church was very powerful in the Middle Ages, Vesalius did something truly revolutionary.

Much that was known about anatomy in Vesalius' times was based on animal studies. Direct observations that Vesalius performed on the human body showed differences between commonly applied theory and practice. That made Vesalius doubt Galen's works.

Andreas Vasalius was known for his public dissections
Andreas Vasalius, deception

In 1543, Vasalius performed the first public dissection and prepared a skeleton. He granted the skeleton to the University of Basel in Switzerland, where it still can be found today. Vesalius is also considered the first to write a complete book on human anatomy. Called 'De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, or Fabrica for short, it was published in 1543 and contained detailed images of the inside of the human body. It's been suggested that several artists worked on the book's sketches.

The Fabrica demonstrated a major step toward development of modern medicine and was groundbreaking for the age. Vesalius also made a short version of this book, which he called the Epitome, and distributed it to his students for use in practice.

Illustrated anatomy atlas the Fabrica is the biggest legacy of Vesalius
The Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius

Public Acknowledgement

Not all medical colleagues shared Vesalius' vision in the Fabrica. When it came out, the book received a lot of negative feedback. Fellow scientists preferred Galen's books, despite their differences with reality. Vesalius was accused of being a barbaric practitioner and eventually forced to stop his medical practice due to public judgment.

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