Early Modern/Renaissance Anatomy


The learned practitioners of medicine at the beginning of the fourteenth century knew little about the structures and workings of the human body beyond what they had read in their books or gained from their experience of patients. Three hundred years later, anatomical study was a fundamental part of medical training throughout Western Europe, the dissection of human corpses was common in universities and enormous changes had occurred in the understanding of all aspects of the body. Anatomy, which encompassed what today includes physiology as well as anatomy itself, became the touchstone of the new medicine, and, thanks to the invention of printing, penetrated the cultural scene. Poems, plays, essays and images propagated to a wider public the results of dissection.

Keywords: anatomy; art; printing; education; Galenism; dissection

Figure 1. Mondino dei Liuzzi, Anathomia, edited by Martin Pollich von Mellerstadt, Leipzig, c. 1493, title page. Mondino's anatomy book was used as the basis for lectures. This frontispiece shows the teacher lecturing from the book while a surgeon cuts up the corpse. Reproduced from Martin Pollich von Mellerstadt, Leipzig, c. 1493, © The Wellcome Library. Distibuted under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.
Figure 2. Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, Basle, 1543, p. 60. The bones of the neck are drawn from various angles and with shading to give a three‐dimensional effect. The images are larger and more detailed than any previously published. Reproduced from Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, Basle © The Wellcome Library. Distibuted under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.
Figure 3. Realdo Colombo, De re anatomica, Venice, 1559. Colombo, Vesalius' successor at Padua and later professor in Rome, dissects a corpse, while an artist sits by, sketching. Somewhat surprisingly, Colombo's book was not published with illustrations, presumably on grounds of cost. Reproduced from Realdo Colombo, De re anatomica, Venice, 1559 © The Wellcome Library. Distibuted under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.
Figure 4. Anatomical fugitive sheet, male figure, Wittenberg, 1573. Part of a set published for students attending lectures on Melanchthon's treatise On the Soul. The flaps on the figure, which bears the head of Vesalius, can be lifted up to reveal the internal organs. Anatomical fugitive sheet, male figure, Wittenberg, 1573. © The Wellcome Library. Distibuted under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.


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Nutton, Vivian(Sep 2015) Early Modern/Renaissance Anatomy. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025079]