Chapter 1 Vesalius and the emergence of veridical representation in Renaissance anatomy Academic Article uri icon


  • The Renaissance marks the introduction of veridical representation of anatomical structure into printed books. For centuries, anatomy that had relied solely on textual description and the authority of the written word was transformed. An existing graphic tradition only visualized function within a humoral theory, schematically "naming the parts" or mapping the "uses of the parts" for mnemonic purposes. In the sixteenth century, anatomists and artist began to apply their knowledge and skills to present the "fabric" of the dissected human body with increasing detail and accuracy, exemplified by the naturalistic illustrations of the brain in Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, 1543). How did this transformation occur? Among the causal factors, the importance the humanist textual scholarship will be shown not only in the recovery of the anatomical writings of Galen (129-ca. 216), in particular, but also in providing a model in establishing anatomical "truth" by a method of "comparison." It will be argued that Vesalius' comparative approach in dissection, using both human and animal preparations against Galen's textual description, paved the way for cumulative observations of greater detail, which in turn required the representational skills of artists. An analysis of Vesalius' views between 1538 and 1543 shows a shift in the use of illustrations from serving as a visual record to compensate for limited access to cadavers in teaching, to becoming an indispensable tool to accurately convey detailed anatomical structure through the medium of printing. With the Fabrica, morphology became divorced from humoral function and enduring paradigms established that dominated until the nineteenth century.

altmetric score

  • 12

author list (cited authors)

  • Russell, G. A.

citation count

  • 9

publication date

  • January 2013