Comparative Anatomy: Andreas Vesalius (2 of 2)

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Image from Fabrica

Challenging Galenism
At age 25, Vesalius launched a full assault on Galen. Lecturing at Padua and then at Bologna, he rigged up skeletons of humans and of Barbary macaques, and showed the assembled students how wrong Galen had been. Vesalius then set out to put together a new anatomy book that included his discoveries. Over the next four years Vesalius worked with the finest block cutters of Venice and draftsmen from Titian’s workshop. He named his book De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, or “The Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body”—commonly known as the Fabrica. In this 1543 masterwork, men and women now stood stripped of skin (right). Skeletons (left) leaned lazily against columns in the rolling Italian countryside.

Another image from Fabrica

Humans Are Not so Unique
Fabrica launched a new tradition in anatomy in Europe, in which anatomists trusted only their own observations and explored the body like a new continent. Vesalius’ discovery of the important differences between species also helped usher in the science of comparative anatomy, in which researchers studied animals to find their similarities and differences. In the process, they gradually began to recognize humans as being one species among many, with a few unique traits but many others shared in common with other animals. Some 300 years after Vesalius first shook off the blind obedience to Galen, Darwin used that vast stock of anatomical knowledge to build his theory of evolution.

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