Showing the Instruments: Vesalius and the Tools of Surgery and Anatomy


By Allen Shotwell

In the dedication to his famous De humani corporis fabrica of 1543, Andreas Vesalius made a deliberate connection between surgery and anatomy. Both surgery and the dissection of bodies to study anatomy relied on manual skills, according to Vesalius, and both topics had fallen out of favor. “Although [surgery] alone was developed by physicians and they strained every nerve in acquiring it, in the end it began to collapse pitifully when those same physicians discarded work of the hands for others to perform and ruined anatomy”.[1]

The skills of the dissector and the skills of the surgeon were connected to each other, and both activities required a variety of instruments to perform. While the stunning images of the body found in the Fabrica sometimes distract with both their artistic and scientific appeal, it’s important to remember that Vesalius’s great work contained pictures of instruments as well…

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Acerca de Leoncio López-Ocón
Historiador. Investigador del Instituto de Historia del Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales del CSIC. Madrid.

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