On the Fabric of the Human Body

Historical Medical Librarian of the Mütter museum Beth Lander presents a 500-year-old book that started human anatomy. Dissection classes weren’t very common because sourcing cadavers could be difficult. The founder of modern anatomy, Andreas Vesalius, collaborated with local judges so that executions could be scheduled around his dissection needs!

Ancient and Medieval Medicine
Andreas Vesalius


Before the digital age medical students learned about anatomy through using illustrated texts like the one here.

If they were lucky, they also dissected cadavers.

The cadavers were hard to come. The author of this book Andreas Vesalius often collaborated with local judges in Italy to have executions scheduled around his dissection needs.

Vesalius’ 1543 book on the fabric of the human body revolutionized how anatomy was taught to medical students.

It’s assumed that an artist named Jan van Calcar was responsible for most of the glorious pictures that are in this book.

We have a more recent example of a collaboration between an artist and an anatomist. In this 1908 picture of Erwin Faber.

Here he’s working with Dr. John Heisler, a professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania on the creation of his book ‘Practical Anatomy’ which was published in 1912.

Erwin Faber was the son of famed medical illustrator Hermann Faber whose reputation during the Civil War was such that he was the only artist permitted at the bedside of Abraham Lincoln after he was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth.

Hermann Faber, ‘Death of President Lincoln,’ 1865.

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