Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius
Imperial Phsician
Specialty: Human anatomy
Born Dec. 31, 1514
Brussels, Habsburg Netherlands
Died Oct. 15, 1564 (at age 49)
Zakynthos, Venetian Ionian Islands
Nationality Brabantian (modern-day Belgium)

Andreas Vesalius was a Brabantian from what is now known as modern-day Belgium. He was a physician, anatomist, and author. Sometimes, he is called the founder, or the father, of modern anatomy.

Vesalius was a highly regarded professor who taught at the University of Padua and later in his life he became the imperial physician for Emperor Charles V. The name he was given is a Latinized name of the Dutch name Andries van Wezel. This was very common among scholars from Europe.

Medical Career

On the same day as his graduation, Vesalius was offered a high position as the head of Surgery and Anatomy in Padua. He was also known for guest speaking at Pisa and Bologna about his work. Previously, the topics that he spoke about were taught from reading texts, primarily Galen. No one made the effort to actually check these claims made by Galen.

However, Vesalius wanted to carry out dissections as his primary tool for teaching anatomy. He would do the work himself, and his students would watch while grouped around the table. He believed that hands-on and direct observations were the best teaching resource. He also kept very detailed drawings of his dissections for his students to view.

Life as An Imperial Physician

Vesalius was known as a great author who changed the views on human anatomy. Right after his work was published, he was invited to be the Imperial physician in the court of the Emperor Charles V. Right after informing the Venetian Senate about his resignation in Padua, he was invited to teach at the University Of Pisa, a position which he turned down.

When he took his position that was in the court of the emperor, a lot of the other physicians mocked him because of his methods of dissection. He worked at the court for eleven years and traveled with them. He would help treat those who were injured in battles and tournaments. After the death of Charles V, he served in the court with Philip II. During this time, he released a revised edition of his piece “De Corporis.”


In the year 1543, he started working on his seven-volume work entitled De humani corporis fabrica, which can be translated to On the Fabric of the Human Body. He sought help from Johannes Oporinus for the completion of this publication. This work had illustrations that were believed to be drawn by a pupil of Titian, Jan Stephen van Calcar.

Right after this work was published, he released another version which was called De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome. This piece was translated as Abridgement of the Structure of the Human Body. This version focused more on the illustrations to help people understand, rather than the text. The two books varied, and the latter one was dedicated to the son of the emperor, Phillip II of Spain. His other works included a focus on dissection and other areas on anatomy.

Scientific Findings

Vesalius is also known for his scientific findings. He was the one who first believed that the skeletal system was the framework that held the human body together. This statement can be found in the first chapter of De Fabrica. He also used this claim in many of his speeches and lectures.

This was one of his most persistent claims against Galen’s theories. One of his most impressive contributions was on the study and observation of the muscular system. The illustrations in his book De Fabrica were a great contribution and revelation to the study of human anatomy. Besides this, he also did extensive research on the vascular and circulatory system, the nervous system, abdominal organs and other parts of the human body.

Death and Legacy

There are a lot of different stories regarding Vesalius’ death. It was said that he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem after the Inquisition. Some claimed that he was sentenced to death by Philip II after performing an autopsy on an aristocrat only to find that his heart was still beating.

Others say that the sentence was the pilgrimage itself. Nevertheless, Vesalius had much to contribute to the study of the human body. His plates and drawings representing the parts of the human body as well as partial dissections have been studied by many physicians after him.

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