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Art in the Health Sciences Library Exhibit No.2: "Anatomical Art by Vesalius"

"Anatomical Art by Vesalius," a series of framed digitized anatomical images, is on permanent display on the stone columns just outside the main Reference area of the Health Sciences Library. Another set of smaller framed images graces the hallway on the lower level just ouside the History of Medicine. A reception to celebrate the opening was held in HSL on October 17, 2001.

Made possible through the generous support of the Friends of the Health Sciences Library and the Medical Historical Society, the exhibit is the second of a series developed by the Health Sciences Art and Media Group (HSAMG) which includes staff from HSL and iMedia.

The talented iMedia staff reproduced the anatomical prints from a reprint of Vesalius illustrations reproduced from Andreae Vesalii Bruxellensis Icones anatomicae, originally published in 1934. The book, entitled: The illustrations from the works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels; with annotations and translations, a discussion of the plates and their background, authorship and influence, and a biographical sketch of Vesalius by J. B. de C. M. Saunders and Charles D. O'Malley, is owned by the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection in HSL.

The Collection, with over 12,000 volumes, contains a wealth of resources which HSAMG will use to create future exhibits.

ANDREAS VESALIUS (Andreas Van Wesele)
1514 - 1564

Andreas Vesalius was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1514. He most likely received his elementary education at the school of the Brothers of the Common Life in Brussels. He attended the University of Louvain from 1530 to 1533 with the goal of obtaining a master of arts degree. At some point during this time, Vesalius decided to study medicine at the University of Paris. From 1533 to 1536, he studied medicine in the Galenic tradition under Sylvius and Jean Ferne. Forced to return to Belgium in 1536 because of the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, he returned to the University of Louvain. There he studied medicine under Guinter of Adernach and was able to reintroduce anatomical dissection to the school. He obtained his bachelor's in medicine in 1537. Vesalius enrolled in the medical school of the University of Padua in the same year and received his doctor in medicine shortly thereafter. He was appointed a lecturer in surgery and anatomy and actually performed his own dissections for his classes, which most lecturers of the time did not do. In 1543 Vesalius became physician to the household of the Emperor Charles V and in 1559 he was appointed physician to his son, Philip II. While in royal service, he acted as a military surgeon during the Hapsburg campaigns. During a stay at the imperial court in Madrid, Vesalius made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On the return voyage in 1564, he died in a shipwreck off the island of Zakinthos.



The Fabrica is a monograph describing human anatomy, seeking to provide the reader with the fullest possible description of the human body, and therefore the presentation is far more detailed than any of its predecessors or its successors for a considerable time to come. This called for the correction of long-existing erroneous views, many of them inherited from Galen of Pergammon (a.d. 129? - 199) and Medieval sources. By the 1540's Vesalius was certain that Galen's research reflected the anatomy of an ape. Active dissection and observation of the human body could correct these errors. Also, it was Vesalius' plan that all earlier and brief anatomical descriptions must be extended and verified by reference to the human cadaver. He hoped to persuade the established medical world to appreciate anatomy as the foundation of all other medical research.

Vesalius prepared the sketches for the Fabrica based on his dissections. He then collaborated with artists or draftsmen on the preparation of the final illustrations for the work. There is some question as to the names of these artists and draftsmen, but it seems likely that they came from the studio of the famous artist Titian and may have included one of his pupils, Johannes Stephan van Calcar. Vesalius himself may have drawn some of the figures in the Fabrica. The text of the book was in Latin with many of the anatomical terms in Greek, Arabic and Hebrew. Joannes Oporinus of Basel printed the Fabrica as a folio on demi-size paper using a "creditable roman letter" and the "Grobe Texte" types and the "Basel" italic. The work was completed in June 1543.


  1. C.D. O'Malley. Andreas Vesalius of Brussels 1514-1564. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964.
  2. Vesalius, Andreas. Catalog of the Scientific Community in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Richard S. Westfall, Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University.