Last Look

Body consciousness

A sixteenth-century muscle man.

Andreas Vesalius (1514–64), widely regarded as the founder of modern anatomical studies, had this “muscle man” and other highly detailed woodcut illustrations created for his long treatise De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body). Yale surgeon Harvey Cushing, Class of 1891, admired Vesalius, and his vast collection of Vesalian works became the core of Yale’s Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, where this copy of Fabrica resides.

The illustrations in Vesalius are extraordinary not only for their relative accuracy—a breakthrough for the time—but also for their artistic merit. The poses are complex, and the figures are standing in landscapes, often with villages in the background. It’s a textbook that tries to depict not only human anatomy, but the human being.

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