Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius (1514 to 1564, lower left) relished dissecting cadavers and inspecting cemetery bones as a medical student at the University of Paris. By age 23, he was appointed Professor of Surgery and Anatomy at the University of Padua. A Paduan judge so admired his work that he began supplying him with bodies of executed criminals for examination. Vesalius soon found anatomic errors in the long-revered texts of Galen (129 to c. 216 ce), who by Roman imperial decree had only been allowed to dissect animals. Vesalius published his magnificent De humani corporis fabrica (upper middle), or simply, the Fabrica, in 1543, the same year as Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. Although best known for the sublime detail of its anatomic illustrations, the Fabrica also contained decorative initials with mischievous putti, chubby child figures, in morbid scenes. Through these crude images, Vesalius paid homage to Galen’s use of live animal dissection to learn physiology. In the book’s preface, a large letter Q featured putti vivisecting a restrained pig’s neck (lower right). After lecturing on the anatomy of the recurrent laryngeal nerves, Vesalius repeated Galen’s experiment by cutting the nerves of a pig to abolish its squeal. (Lanska DJ. J Hist Neurosci 2014; 23:211–32. Copyright © the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology. www.woodlibrarymuseum.org)

Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius (1514 to 1564, lower left) relished dissecting cadavers and inspecting cemetery bones as a medical student at the University of Paris. By age 23, he was appointed Professor of Surgery and Anatomy at the University of Padua. A Paduan judge so admired his work that he began supplying him with bodies of executed criminals for examination. Vesalius soon found anatomic errors in the long-revered texts of Galen (129 to c. 216 ce), who by Roman imperial decree had only been allowed to dissect animals. Vesalius published his magnificent De humani corporis fabrica (upper middle), or simply, the Fabrica, in 1543, the same year as Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. Although best known for the sublime detail of its anatomic illustrations, the Fabrica also contained decorative initials with mischievous putti, chubby child figures, in morbid scenes. Through these crude images, Vesalius paid homage to Galen’s use of live animal dissection to learn physiology. In the book’s preface, a large letter Q featured putti vivisecting a restrained pig’s neck (lower right). After lecturing on the anatomy of the recurrent laryngeal nerves, Vesalius repeated Galen’s experiment by cutting the nerves of a pig to abolish its squeal. (Lanska DJ. J Hist Neurosci 2014; 23:211–32. Copyright © the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology. www.woodlibrarymuseum.org)

Close modal

Jane S. Moon, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, California.