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De Humanis Corporis Fabrica February 1, 2007

Posted by Johan in Neuroscience.

Andreas Vesalius, De Humanis Corporis Fabrica (1543). Plate 609.

Andreas Vesalius is one of the most influential anatomists of all time. His masterpiece De Humanis Corporis Fabrica (‘On the Fabric of the Human Body’), published in 1543, broke with numerous traditional views held by other historical giants such as Aristotle and Galen. While most previous investigators had shied away from studying the human body directly, prefering to base their observations on animal dissection, Vesalius went straight to the source and dissected humans, primarily the bodies of criminals which had been donated by a sympathetic judge (no Ethics committees back then, apparently).

Vesalius advanced our understanding of many physiological processes, but unsurprisingly given the methods of the day, he made precious little progress on the workings of the brain. What he did provide was a strikingly detailed collection of drawings of the brain. Even better, the entire work is available online at various places, such as The US National Library of Medicine, and Wikimedia Commons. Northwestern University has a version which includes some pictures I haven’t seen elsewhere, but unfortunately their website is so poorly designed that it is almost unusable.

With a modern eye, it’s clear that the artists that Vesalius employed glossed over some details regarding the gyrii and fissures: they look more like spaghetti than anything in this image, for instance. Yet, the overall structure of the brain is amazingly faithfully represented.

Even today, these drawings give a useful account of the structure of the brain, especially for those of us who don’t have the stomach to watch actual autopsy footage.


1. Ben.P - February 1, 2007

He could shave in before opening his head ! Poor criminal, no dignity !

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