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Vesalius, Andreas

1. Dates
Born: Brussels, 31 December 1514
Died: Zakinthos, 15 October 1564
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 50
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
His father was an apothecary to Emperor Maximillian and then his son Charles V. He became a constant attendent to Charles, a valet de chambre. The father was the illegitimate son of Everart van Wesele, physician to the Emperor. His great-grandfather served Frederick III and was granted the heraldic device of three weasels. Vesalius came from a long line of physicians who were in royal service.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Belgian Area
Career: Italian, Spanish, German, Belgian Area
Death: European Culture
4. Education
Schooling: Louvain; Paris; Padua, M.D.
Vesalius took his elementary studies in Brussels most likely at the school of the Brothers of the Common Life. He matriculated at the University of Louvain in 1530 to pursue an arts curriculum. It is unknown when he decided to study medicine, possibly after 1531 when the Emperor legitimized his father in consideration of his continual service as valet de chambre.
Vesalius commenced his medical schooling at the University of Paris two years later. He left Paris in 1536 because of the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire. He returned to Louvain and with the support of the Burgomuster he was able to reintroduce anatomical dissection at the school. He received his bachelor's in medicine the following year.
In the same year, he enrolled in the medical school of the University of Padua. With his previous work at Louvain and Paris it was only months before Vesalius passed his exams and received his doctor in medicine. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Anatomy, Medicine, Physiology
Subordinate: Pharmacology
At Paris Vesalius studied medicine in the Galenic tradition under Sylvius, Jean Ferne, and at Louvain under Guinter of Andernach. He acquired great skill in dissection but remained under the influence of the Galenic concepts of anatomy. Immediately after his graduation from Padua he began lecturing on surgery and anatomy. Unlike many other lecturers of the time, Vesalius insisted on carrying out his own dissections for his classes. He produced for the aid of his students four large anatomical charts. After one of them was plagiarized and published, he printed the remaining three charts with three views of the skeleton by Jan Stephen, a student from Titian's studio. This work appeared in 1538 as Tabulae anatomicae sex. The following year he produced an anatomical manual for his students, Institutiones anatomicae. Vesalius's anatomical researches were beginning to call into question some of Galen's findings. By 1540's he was certain that Galen's research did not reflect human anatomy; rather it was the anatomy of an ape.
In 1543 Vesalius published two works on anatomy directed to two separate audiences. In the longer of the two, the Fabrica, Vesalius hoped to persuade the established medical world to appreciate anatomy as the foundation of all other medical research. The errors of Galen and of others could be corrected by active dissection and observation of the human structure. In the same year Vesalius published a work for students, the Epitome, which also emphasized the importance of dissection and anatomical knowledge in general to the practice of medicine. Both works were amply illustrated possibly by students from Titian's studio.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Medicine
Secondary: Academia
After receiving his doctor in medicine (1537) at Padua, Vesalius accepted a position there as an explicator chirurgiae. He was responsible for lecturing on surgery and anatomy.
In 1543 he left academic research to become physician to the imperial household. Vesalius held this position until Charles V abdicated in favor of his son Philip II, whom Vesalius served until his own death. While in royal service Vesalius acted as a military surgeon during the Hapsburg campaigns. He also served various members of the court and was so esteemed as a physician that he was called to consult on serious cases.
8. Patronage
Types: Physician, Court Official
Vesalius dedicated two of his earlier works to Nicolas Florenas, a physician and family friend. Vesalius referred to Florenas as the patron of his earlier studies.
Vesalius served the courts of both Charles V and his son Philip II. He dedicated his Fabrica to Charles V.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
In 1546 Vesalius wrote an Epistola on the discovery and therapeutic use of chinaroot in the treatment of syphilis.
The following year he introduced a new procedure, the surgically induced drainage of empyema.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Harvey Cushing, A Bio-Biography of Andreas Vesalius, (Hamden, 1962). Spec. QM16 .V5 Z6 C.D. O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels 1514-1564, (Los Angeles, 1965). QM16 .V5 O5
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
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