Andreas Vesalius was a physician and anatomist who lived during the 16th century AD. Up until this point of time, the standard authority on anatomy was the work of Galen, a 2nd / 3rd century Roman physician and surgeon. But Galen’s religious beliefs preventing him from cutting open a deceased human being. However, Vesalius did not share the same beliefs and his willingness to dissect humans marked the start of a new phase in the study of human anatomy.
Although Galen’s work had the greatest influence on the subject of anatomy, it did not mean that he was always right. Galen’s anatomical reports were based on the dissection of animals, mainly apes, and his findings remained unchallenged until Vesalius came along, and, based on his observations, stated that the anatomy of human beings were not the same as apes.
A Family of Physicians
Andreas Vesalius was born on December 31, 1514 in the city of Brussels. Whilst this city is today the capital of Belgium, it was part of the Holy Roman Empire during Vesalius’ time. Vesalius hailed from a family of physicians, and both his father and grandfather had served in the court of the Holy Roman emperor. Vesalius was sent to Paris to study medicine. He was not satisfied whilst studying in the French capital, as “his anatomy teachers were content to expound on Galen while poking around in the bodies of dead dogs.”
A portrait of Vesalius from De humani corporis fabrica. (Public Domain)
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