Andreas Vesalius was born as Andries van Wesel on December 31, 1514 in Brussels, which was then part of the Habsburg Netherlands. He later Latinized his Dutch name which was a common scholar practice in his time. He was born to a medical family. His great grand father and grand father were both doctors while his father was an apothecary. He started his education by learning both Greek and Latin (which was essential since medicine was written exclusively in these languages) because his father wanted him to continue with the family tradition of medicine. But Vesalius first went to school for the arts. He later changed his mind and decided to pursue a military career, but in the end, he did study medicine. When he went to the University of Paris to study for the military, he encountered the theories of Galen.
After receiving his doctorate in medicine, he traveled with the future Pope Paul IV and Ignatius of Loyola to treat those that had leprosy. He then accepted the chair of surgery and anatomy at Padua (an important medical college). In this position he was able to reintroduce anatomical dissection, which had not been part of the medical curriculum for many years. While teaching, he performed live dissections in class which he performed himself and encouraged his students to perform dissections themselves.
Discussion Topic: How is this view on dissection different then Galen’s era? How would this change the study of anatomy?
Using dissections as a teaching tool presents challenges. There is only one teacher with numerous students. Being able to see is an issue if the teacher is dissecting. If the students are dissecting, there is only one teacher and thus they cannot be at hand to give guidance through out the dissection. The cadaver will not keep forever. These were all challenges that Vesalius faced with this new hands on, first person approach to learning. He did not want to take Galen’s knowledge at face value and did not want to teach that it was infallible.
It was his art education that presented the solution to these problems. He began to make detailed drawings of his dissections which he then made available to his students. When they were well received, he published them. In a way, these were the first modern anatomy reference books which now all have photos and diagrams.
Discussion Topic: In what way does art change the study of anatomy? Why is the influence of art important? Consider the style, available materials, talent etc.