Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Health Sciences > 144. Andreas Vesalius

144.  Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564).  De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. Basel: Joannis Oporini, 1543. Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, Archives & Special Collections

Vesalius's Fabrica is an epochal work, the starting point of the modern study of anatomy and, by extension, of modern Western medicine. Besides its importance to medicine, it is a masterpiece of the book arts and a landmark in the organization of knowledge. At some point, probably while finishing his medical education at Padua, Vesalius realized that Galen, the "Prince of Anatomists," had never actually dissected a human body. With conceptual blinders removed, he undertook his own comprehensive survey of the body, completing the work in July 1542 after two years' labor. He was twenty-seven at the time.

The celebrated frontispiece is a visual representation of Vesalius's belief that knowledge of the body could be gained only through the direct experience of dissection by the anatomist. Vesalius is shown at the center of an imaginary anatomical theater performing a dissection with his own hands while a vast crowd looks on. The barber-surgeons who previously opened the cadavers at dissections have been banished to the floor, where they quarrel over who will sharpen Vesalius's razors. The dogs on the right and the monkey on the left can be seen as a sly reference to Galen's animal dissections. The Health Sciences Library is one of the few to own four copies of this first edition.

Purchased with the John Green Curtis Library, 1914

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