The work of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels constitutes one of the greatest treasures of Western civilization and culture. His masterpiece, the De Humani Corporis Fabrica and its companion volume the Epitome, issued at Basel in 1543, established with startling suddenness the beginning of modern observational science and research. Their author has come to be ranked with Hippocrates, Galen, Harvey and Lister among the great physicians and discoverers in the history of medicine. However, his book is not only one of the most remarkable known to science, it is one of the most noble and magnificent volumes in the history of printing. In it, illustration, text and typography blend to achieve an unsurpassed work of creative art; the embodiment of the spirit of the Renaissance directed toward the future with new meaning.
The purpose of the present work is to make available to the general reader, the student of art, of science and of medicine, the illustrations from the works of Andreas Vesalius through the medium of which they may gain some insight into this achievement of science and art. In the dynamic and dramatic postures of the figures which emanated from the workshop of the master painter Titian, one may trace with something of the original freshness and enthusiasm man's discovery of his own bodily structure. In them, the student of the graphic arts will perceive the movement which freed art from conventional forms to re-approach nature, whence it could once more depart to explore other fields. Here, too, he will find the sixteenth-century woodcut at its finest, and here he will feel the power of the illustration employed for the advancement of knowledge.
To facilitate this purpose each of the illustrations has been briefly annotated. First there appears in italics Vesalius' own legend to the drawing followed by an explanatory note which in many instances, owing to the nature of the material, is perforce somewhat technical and therefore will be of greater interest to the physician or biologist than to the general reader or to the artist. However, it is hoped that despite the necessity of such information, the general reader will find enough in these notes to give him some understanding of the meaning of the drawing. Vesalius provided each of the illustrations with an elaborate index to the letters denoting the various structures exposed. Since the terminology employed is so archaic as to require, except for the expert in sixteenth-century medicine, interpretation of almost every term, which would greatly increase the bulk of this volume, it was thought wiser to omit the translation of the indices. However, this should present no difficulty to anyone with a knowledge of human anatomy since he will be able to identify easily the many structures, and attention has been drawn to those which might prove confusing. At this juncture the reader should perhaps be warned of the danger of judging Vesalius' knowledge or lack of knowledge by the illustrations alone. This has been . . .