VESALIUS, Andreas

(1514-1564)
Andreas Vesalius is known to posterity as the founder of modern anatomy. He emphasized dissection of cadavers to acquire anatomical and surgical knowl­edge rather than relying on established authorities, especially Galen.
Born in Brussels in 1514, Vesalius began attending school in Louvain in 1529. He left to study medicine at Paris in 1533 and soon followed a revived classical school of thought led by Guinter of Andernach and Jacobus Sylvius, both of whom favored Galenic anatomy. Vesalius was forced to return to Louvain in 1536 due to the war between Francois I* and Charles V,* and in 1537 he received his bachelor of medicine.
From Louvain Vesalius traveled to Padua, which maintained the most re­nowned medical faculty in Italy. After a few months of impressive study, the faculty allowed him to teach and bestowed upon him a doctor of medicine. Vesalius held the chair of surgery at Padua and consequently improved upon his reputation in the field of anatomy. He continued to follow Galenist tradition, although his Tabulae anatomicae, published in 1538, displayed some original thinking. The collection of anatomical drawings combined with text departed from tradition and represented the beginning of a separation from Galenic anat­omy. He proved that Galen's description of human anatomy was based on an­imals, especially the ape. Galen did not have the opportunities to dissect human cadavers as did Vesalius, who had the luxury of dissecting executed criminals in Padua.
Vesalius moved further from Galen in his Venesection Letter of 1539, which stressed the importance of dissection rather than blindly following revered au­thorities. Students and faculty alike admired his new dissection methods, but at a public dissection in Bologna in 1540, many walked out after Vesalius at­tempted to disprove Galen. Vesalius demonstrated his scientific independence, which attracted younger students but alienated the conservatives in the field. Many medical leaders criticized Vesalius for opposing Galen and the classics. In 1543 Vesalius journeyed to Basel to publish De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body), which became the most influential and important work of his career. Fabrica was an extremely detailed work based on human dissection. It corrected many medieval and Galenic errors in human anatomy, but surprisingly left many uncorrected. Fabrica served as one of the first anatomy textbooks aiming to reach those that were not the author's students or did not have access to a cadaver. The illustrations, done by Jan van Calcar, were remarkable for their extraordinary detail, especially regarding skeletal and muscular structure. Fabrica received much criticism for disputing Galen, but many contemporaries realized its importance. It influenced physicians to acquire hands-on training through dissection, it added to nomenclature by applying names that describe a body part, and it influenced future comparative anatomists (although Vesalius is not considered a true comparative anatomist). Vesalius began to develop anatomy as a science first and foremost, thus displacing the theological and philosophical elements traditionally attached to anatomy.
Vesalius left Basel in 1543 to present Fabrica to Charles V at the imperial court. Charles was sufficiently impressed with Vesalius and his work to appoint him physician to the imperial household, a position he held until Charles's ab­dication. Vesalius accompanied the emperor on various campaigns, which oc­casionally gave him the opportunity to lecture at academic centers. In 1546 he published the Letter on the China Root, which explains how the China root can be used to treat syphilis. In the letter he also defends Fabrica against the Gal­enist supporters, primarily his former teacher Sylvius. Vesalius continued his anatomical research while he was employed in the imperial service and re­sponded to his critics in a timely manner. He even republished Fabrica in 1555, correcting many of his own errors but adding no outstanding discoveries to his prior work.
Charles abdicated in 1556, and Vesalius, previously named count palatine, received a pension with no duties. His medical reputation was evident in 1559 when he was called upon to examine the eventually fatal head injury of Henri II of France. Vesalius went to Spain at this point to become a physician to the Netherlanders at court. He attended upon Philip II* occasionally and was sum­moned to attend Philip's eldest son, Don Carlos, who sustained an ultimately fatal injury when he fell down a flight of stairs chasing a girl. Vesalius published his last major work, Examen, in 1564, which was primarily biographical and holds no scientific importance.
Vesalius left Spain in 1564 to pilgrimage to the Holy Land; however, on his return trip from Jerusalem, he became ill and died on the Greek island of Zante. The most important achievement of his life was the publication of Fabrica, which influenced later generations to further develop the science of anatomy through human dissection.
Bibliography
F. J. Cole, A History ofComparative Anatomy: From Aristotle to the Eighteenth Century, 1949.
C. D. O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564, 1964.
A. Serafini, The Epic History of Biology, 1993.
Paul Miller

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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