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Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, 1543)

On the Fabric of the Human Body

Best known work of early modern anatomy:

Vesalius was fortunate to team up with Jan Stephan van Calcar, a remarkable artist. Even the human skeletons reveal an aesthetic appreciation of the human body. The images of De fabrica are often regarded as Vesalius’ major contribution to Renaissance medicine. That the text of De fabrica was built around the illustrations of a student of Titian reveals the significance of the Renaissance convergence of art and anatomical illustration.

This book is without doubt the most handsome 16th-century anatomical work. The title page displays Vesalius conducting a public autopsy. Perhaps a vivisection of the dog or monkey will follow. At the top, the initials I-O stand for Johannes. The Johannes in question was Vesalius’ partner in producing the work, the artist Jan Stephan van Calcar, a student of Titian. Jan Stephan died shortly after the book was published and his contribution is not widely appreciated.

Vesalius was fortunate to team up with a world class artist. Even the human skeletons reveal an aesthetic appreciation of the human body.

How far we have come from Roman era taboos prohibiting physical contact with the dead! This series of works, from Mondino to Vesalius, represents a new aesthetic toward the human body. When Melanchthon was reforming the curriculum of the universities founded by the Lutherans during the Reformation, he settled upon the study of Vesalius as the most suitable replacement for traditional undergraduate study of Aristotle. Human anatomy took its place in the common core.

The title page of the second edition, published in 1555 and on display at Headington Hall, resembles the first edition but is less artistically executed. Significantly, the initials IO were removed.

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: Anatomy

Section Number: 1

Object Number: 4

Subject Area(s): Health Sciences, History of the Book, Art, Religious Studies

Time Period: 16th Century

Region(s): Europe, Switzerland, Italy

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