New material from founder of modern human anatomy comes to Warwick

The discovery of new material from the sixteenth-century founder of modern human anatomy, Andreas Vesalius, is to be showcased at a University of Warwick seminar next week.

The 1543 De Humani Corporis Fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius is one of the most famous of all medical books. On 14 March Vivian Nutton, Honorary Professor in the departments of History and Classics and Ancient History, will present the discovery of Vesalius’ own annotated copy of the later 1555 edition and will discuss its significance.

The hundreds of annotations were meant for a third edition that was never published. The first two editions were acknowledged to mark a new stage in the understanding of the body. The message that human bodies could be understood only through the dissection of human corpses, not those of animals, was revolutionary for the time.

The new material also includes improvements to the Latin wording and corrections to the printer plates, with instructions to the printer and cutter.

Professor Nutton states: "(Vesalius) is now a little kinder to his great Classical predecessor, Galen, ... (and) he is undoubtedly the first medical writer to comment on female religious circumcision (in Ethiopia), and to suggest that the eye is divided by the lens into two very unequal parts."

The same year that the book was first published, Vesalius left his chair at the University of Padua for service with Charles V of Spain.

The identification of Vesalius as the later annotator was first made by a Canadian pathologist, Gerard Vogringic, and confirmed by Professor Nutton. The volume is now on deposit at the Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto.

A full description of the find will appear in Medical History, October 2012.

Notes to the editor