De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius

De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius Facsimile Edition

Basel (Switzerland) — 1555

Surely the most famous work by Andreas Vesalius: his fundamental study of the human anatomy illustrated with 30 masterful woodcuts

  1. One of the most important works on human anatomy, written by Andreas Vesalius (1514–64) and illustrated with 30 masterful woodcuts

  2. The present work is a summary of a manuscript originally spanning seven volumes

  3. Prior to this work from 1553, medical knowledge was still based on the Roman physician Claudius Galen (129 - about 210)

De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius

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De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius

In the mid–16th century, the dissection of human cadavers was considered to be an absolute taboo and was sometimes harshly penalized. Medicinal and anatomical findings were gained from the exploration of animal cadavers. This was not enough for the ambitious medical student Andreas Vesalius. He obtained corpses in adventurous cloak-and-dagger operations from graveyards and used them to conduct his studies, which make up the cornerstone of modern anatomy. Vesalius recorded his findings in his anatomical atlas De Humani Corporis Fabrica and in the abridged version Epitome. This medical treatise is one of the most important works on human anatomy to have ever been written and is illustrated with masterful woodcuts.

De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius

The medical atlas De Humani Corporis Fabrica is the primary work by the anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius. This series of books is a foundational work of anatomy, which was presented for the first time in history as empirical research on the basis of human cadavers. Before Vesalius, medicinal research was primarily conducted on the bodies of animals. Actually, this extremely comprehensive work consists of seven volumes, however there is also a heavily abbreviated version with the title Epitome. The Epitome consists of 30 woodcuts, which are both of exceptional importance from both an artistic as well as a medical perspective. Andreas Vesalius is considered to be the founder of modern anatomy and left behind an absolute milestone of illumination with his medical treatise.

The Conservative Anatomy of the Middle Ages

In France in the year 1553, all medical knowledge taught at the universities and other institutions of higher learning was based on the findings of the 2nd century Roman doctor Claudius Galen. Galen’s numerous medical treatises originate from a time when Roman law forbade the dissection of human bodies. Consequently, Galen managed with the study of animals and extrapolated human anatomy from theirs. Inconsistencies and discrepancies were simply ignored by medieval professors, or explained with quixotic theories. The ambitious and gifted medical student Andreas Vesalius, who began studying anatomy in Paris in 1533, was not satisfied with these insufficient explanations.

Vesalius, a Pioneer of Medicine

Andreas Vesalius was born in Brussels in the year 1514. He was the son of an apothecary and came into contact with medicine at an early age. At the age of 15, he studied the classic subjects of grammar, rhetoric, algebra, and astrology, as well as music, Greek, and Hebrew. At the age of 18, he made his way to Paris in order to study medicine and anatomy. Here, the unusually goal-oriented student was quickly entrusted by his docents and professors with the dissection of cadavers in their lectures. As a result of his observations and experiences, he quickly developed into an expert on human anatomy. In 1537, Vesalius went to Padua, an important center of contemporary anatomy, where he graduated as a medical doctor and on the same day was named professor of surgery. At the young age of 28, Vesalius published his literary magnum opus De Humani Corporis Fabrica. The monumental work in seven large-format volumes with seven hundred pages and almost two hundred illustrations is considered to be a milestone of empirical research. In this book series, Vesalius recorded all of his own findings concerning the human body and in doing so largely deviated from the previous, conservative views of research. A few months later, he published an abridged version with title Epitome. This text became a standard reference for students and physicians.

A Medicinal Masterpiece and Artful Illustration

The success of the Epitome can largely be attributed to the artful woodcuts illustrating the work. The templates thereof probably come partially from Vesalius himself, partially from Jan Stephan van Calcar, one of the most gifted artists in the workshop of the great painter Titian. The richly detailed, elegant, and often allegorical presentation of the human body appears like a template for the exhibition Body Worlds, which attracted attention to the German doctor and anatomist Gunther von Hagens. Some terms coined by Vesalius survive to today, such as the names hammer and anvil for the auditory ossicles. The significance of Vesalius for medicine has been compared to that of Copernicus for astronomy. With his anatomical atlas, he managed to replace the reigning belief in authority with empiricism and made the dissection of corpses socially acceptable. He additionally became famous due to dramatic stories told about the skill of the physician. Thus, he was rumored to have stolen corpses from graveyards in the dark of night or to have cut them from the gallows and smuggled them through the city. Vesalius has gone down in history as a scholar and adventurer who fought life and limb for his research.


Alternative Titles
Atlas Anatomiczny A. Vesalius'a
Astronomischer Atlas des Andreas Vesalius
30 full-size prints divided into three group: the skelatal system, muscular system, and circulatory system
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius – Biblioteka Uniwersytecka Mikołaj Kopernik w Toruniu (Toruń, Poland) Facsimile Edition
Orbis Pictus – Pelplin
Detail Picture

De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius

Author Portrait

Andreas Vesalius is depicted in this masterful woodcut looking out at the beholder as though you just interrupted him while giving a lecture and he has silenced you with a glance. With short hair and a thick, well-maintained beard, he looks confident, bordering on cocky and is dressed as such in beautiful brocade. He holds the arms of a cadaver, its skin removed to demonstrate the musculature, tendons, nerves, and other systems of the human body and the wonder of nature that is the human hand.

Atlas Anatomiczny A. Vesalius'a
Single Page

De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius

Title Page – Classroom Autopsy of a Human Cadaver

Dissecting the human body has long been controversial. Before being banned by Christian theologians, Western restrictions on “violating” a human body date back to Greek and Roman antiquity. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) was the first to require medical students to attend human dissections and autopsies were common in European universities by the time of Renaissance.

Andreas Vesalius, the author of this text, is pictured to the left of the corpse with his right hand resting lightly on its exposed abdomen. He is in the center of the detailed woodcut depicting a crowded operating theater full of people jockeying for a view of the autopsy. The specter of death in the form of a scythe-wielding skeleton stands at the head of the dissection table.

Atlas Anatomiczny A. Vesalius'a
Facsimile Editions

#1 Atlas Anatomiczny A. Vesalius'a

Orbis Pictus – Pelplin
De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius – Biblioteka Uniwersytecka Mikołaj Kopernik w Toruniu (Toruń, Poland) Facsimile Edition
De Humani Corporis Fabrica - Andreas Vesalius – Biblioteka Uniwersytecka Mikołaj Kopernik w Toruniu (Toruń, Poland) Facsimile Edition Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Orbis Pictus – Pelplin
Binding: Leather briefcase with gold embossing
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
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