The Museum’s exhibit on anatomical illustration highlights the work of two prominent anatomists – Bernard Albinus and Andreas Vesalius. This exhibit celebrates the history of anatomical illustration from the 15th century on, both in its didactic and discursive capacities. This exhibit showcases anatomy and medical illustration as an exploration of the body’s intricacy and a celebration of form, and features a rare copy of Andreas Vesalius’ “De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septum,” and a full scale study skeleton.
Learn More About the Featured Anatomists:
Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), a native of Brussels, was descended from a family of prominent physicians in city of Wesel in the Duchy of Cleves. As a young man, he studied medicine in Montpellier and Paris and later moved to Louvain to teach anatomy. After serving as an army surgeon in France, he moved to Padua in 1537, where he became a professor of anatomy. In 1543, his famous De corporis humani fabrica libri septem (Seven books on the fabric of the human body) was published, for which he gained both fame and notoriety. That same year he was called to the court of Charles V, for whom he served as a court physician. He traveled Europe, from Brussels and Basel to Madrid and the court of Philip II of Spain. He later took up a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but while in Cyprus he was called back to Padua to take an honored chair in anatomy. On his return, he was shipwrecked on the Greek island of Zante and died there on October 15, 1564. Vesalius’ De corporis humani fabrica libri septem is one of the most influential medical texts ever printed, not only because of the scientific methods used to produce it, but because of the artistic renderings of the anatomist’s findings. Although he relied heavily upon Galen, at times translating his words exactly, Vesalius performed his own careful dissections and observed the body in great detail, confirming and refuting many of Galen’s anatomical and physiological tenets. His peers reacted strongly to his decision to question Galen, and he received praise and condemnation. The famous woodcut illustrations of De fabrica influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries and were often copied outright. Jan Stephan Calkar created a set of similar images for Vesalius’s 1538 work, Tabulae anatomicae sex, and is credited with the portrait of Vesalius which appears in De fabrica. He was once thought to have been the sole illustrator, but subsequent scholarship has shown that the work is that of several different artists. While Vesalius certainly performed many of the sketches himself, the unknown artists are now only known collectively as “the workshop of Titian.” A number of important works have been published on Vesalius and De fabrica, and scholarship in the field is still active.
Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697-1770) studied in Leyden with such notable medical men as Herman Boerhaave, Johann Jacob Rau, and Govard Bidloo and received further training in Paris. He returned to Leyden in 1721 to teach surgery and anatomy and soon became one of the most well-known anatomists of the eighteenth century. He was especially famous for his studies of bones and muscles and his attempts at improving the accuracy of anatomical illustration. Albinus is perhaps best known for his monumental Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani, which was published in Leyden in 1747, largely at his own expense. The artist and engraver with whom Albinus did nearly all of his work was Jan Wandelaar (1690-1759). In an attempt to increase the scientific accuracy of anatomical illustration, Albinus and Wandelaar devised a new technique of placing nets with square webbing at specified intervals between the artist and the anatomical specimen and copying the images using the grid patterns. Tabulae was highly criticized by such engravers as Petrus Camper, especially for the whimsical backgrounds added to many of the pieces by Wandelaar, but Albinus staunchly defended Wandelaar and his work.