The Most Influential Medical Book of the 16th Century | Object of Intrigue | Atlas Obscura


– I never get tired of
the reaction of people who say, “Oh, 1543, it’s amazing that
this book was published in 1543, and that I can
actually touch paper from the 16th century, and touch illustrations that were created by someone who lived in the 16th century. I’m Anne Garner, I’m a curator of rare
books and manuscripts here at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City. Today we’re looking at Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, arguably the most important book published in the 16th century. This copy of the 1543 Vesalius has all of the marks of wear of a 16th-century book. This is a book made during
the hand-press period, so each copy is unique. Right away, we notice
that Vesalius is looking at the reader and actually
handling the body, the cadaver itself. He is making a deliberate point that in order to know the body, you have to actually touch and look at and investigate
the body directly. These bodies are extremely accurate in a way that has never happened before because he’s actually
doing dissections himself. One of the things that
Vesalius likes to do is he shows you the body
in different stages of flaying or dissection. He’s making a direct
reference to the way that bodies were acquired. Italy had strict rules about the kinds of bodies that you could use for dissection. These were mostly church laws and Vesalius got most of his bodies from executed criminals. So here you have that
illustrated literally. So it is possible to make an appointment and come see this book
and actually handle it and look at the woodcut images up close and read what Vesalius
said about the body.

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