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Remembering Vesalius

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of the founder of modern anatomy

It is generally held that Andreas Vesalius, anatomist, surgeon and a physician to the emperor Charles V, was born in Brussels on 31 December 1514. However, the exact date of Vesalius’s birth is not certain, as there are indications that he might have been born not on the last day of December but in the early hours of the next day. While this is only one of the many uncertainties about Vesalius’s life, it is beyond any doubt that this remarkable 16th century scholar profoundly and positively transformed the knowledge of human anatomy as well as the way it was studied and taught. Vesalius’s masterpiece, the book entitled De humani corporis fabrica (On the fabric of the human body) and published in 1543, the same year as Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres), marks the beginning of a new era not only in anatomy, but in medicine and science in general. Indeed, both modern evidence-based medicine and modern empirical and experimental sciences can trace some of their roots to Vesalius’s work.

Vesalius and his opus can be fully understood only within the context of the 16th century social and cultural frameworks in Europe, personal idiosyncrasies…