Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), the Belgian anatomist and physician, helped to correct misconceptions prevailing since ancient times and laid the foundations of the modern science of anatomy through his dissections of the human body and descriptions of his findings.
Vesalius was born in Brussels in December 1514. The son of a celebrated apothecary, he attended the University of Leuven and later the University of Paris, where he studied medicine from 1533 to 1536, showing a special interest in anatomy.
Further study at the University of Padua brought him not only his medical degree but an appointment as a lecturer on surgery. His continuing research revealed that the anatomical teachings from antiquity of the Greco-Roman physician Galen, then revered in medical schools, were based on dissections of animals, even though they were intended to provide a guide to the structure of the human body.
Using the knowledge acquired in his own dissections of human cadavers, Vesalius wrote an elaborate anatomical work, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” (On the Structure of the Human Body, 7 volumes, 1543), published in Basel, Switzerland, with many of the fine engravings rendered by Jan van Calcar, a pupil of Titian.
This document was a milestone in medical history. Hundreds of Galen's anatomical errors were clearly demonstrated by this remarkable observer. It was the first anatomical textbook that could pretend to scientific accuracy, it aroused heated dispute but helped lead to his appointment as physician in the imperial household of Charles V, Holy Roman emperor. After Charles abdicated, his son, Philip II, appointed Vesalius one of his physicians in 1559. After several years at the imperial court in Madrid, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
On the voyage home in 1564, he died in a shipwreck off the island of Zacynthus.