July 20, 2024

The Founder of Modern Anatomy and his Contribution to the Scientific Revolution

Andreas Vesalius was a major contributor to the 16th century scientific revolution, specifically in the fields of biology and medicine. In The Scientific Revolution, Steven Shapin claims that Vesalius is seen as, “the Flemish anatomist … [who was] celebrated as the inventor of rigorous observational methods and as the critic of ancient anatomical claims” (Shapin, 1996). Yet, Shapin also states that Vesalius, “saw himself as reviving the pure medical knowledge of the Greek physician Galen” (Shapin, 1996).

The observation methods that Shapin is acknowledging in his description of Vesalius refers to Vesalius’s “application of empirical methods to the study of anatomy” (Splavski, et al., 2019). Before Vesalius, dissections were a relatively new and limited practice (Splavski, et al., 2019). Thus, anatomy was not able to be studied in an in-depth manner. Anatomical knowledge would never be complete because dissections were not often performed to confirm if what was thought to be known about the human body was actually true.

Vesalius seemed determined to change that after he became an anatomy and surgery professor at The University of Padua in 1537 (Zampieri, Elmaghawry, Zanatta, & Thiene, 2015). It was there where he met Jan van Calcar and they would work together to produce “the Tabulae anatomicae sex, (Six anatomical plates)” based on dissections that Vesalius had been performing on cadavers while being employed at university (Zampieri, Elmaghawry, Zanatta, & Thiene, 2015). The second anatomical plate was well known for being about the liver and the vena cava which is one his most accredited works because it is there that he highlights errors in Galen’s previously established ideas of anatomy (Zampieri, Elmaghawry, Zanatta, & Thiene, 2015).

Vesalius is most commonly known as, “the father of modern anatomy” (Splavski, et al., 2019). One reason why he now holds this title is because he was the writer and one of the illustrators of the first comprehensive textbook of human anatomy titled De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) which translates to “On the fabric of the human body” in English (Florkin, 2020). Vesalius’s textbook put anatomy at the forefront as a scientific discipline which had never been done before (Splavski, et al., 2019). It also earned recognition for being extremely detailed and precise (Splavski, et al., 2019). However, what was now known as anatomy, because of Vesalius, often challenged the current medical knowledge (Splavski, et al., 2019). The two scientific subject areas were not in agreement with each other and that became controversial.

At first, Vesalius’s discoveries were definitely not met without opposition. Even though Vesalius saw his work as a revival of Galen’s pure medical knowledge, that does not mean that the rest of society saw his work in the same light. Galen was a well respected figure in the academic establishment of the time (Splavski, et al., 2019). To find and expose anatomical inconsistencies in Galen’s work was to challenge the entire medical body of knowledge and all of the academic authorities associated with it (Splavski, et al., 2019). Despite all of the backlash Vesalius received for going against the status quo, today he is globally recognized for his contributions to anatomy and for being one of the main contributors to the scientific revolution in his field.



Florkin, M. (2020, May 28). Andreas Vesalius. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andreas-Vesalius

Shapin, S. (1996). The Scientific Revolution. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Splavski, B., Rotim, K., Lakičević, G., Gienapp, A. J., Boop, F. A., & Arnautović, K. I. (2019). Andreas Vesalius, the Predecessor of Neurosurgery: How his Progressive Scientific Achievements Affected his Professional Life and Destiny. World Neurosurgery, 129, 202-209. doi:10.1016/j.wneu.2019.06.008

Zampieri, F., Elmaghawry, M., Zanatta, A., & Thiene, G. (2015). Andreas Vesalius: Celebrating 500 years of dissecting nature. Global Cardiology Science and Practice, 2015(5), 66. doi:10.5339/gcsp.2015.66

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