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The father of modern anatomy

Andreas Vesalius alias Vesal was born 500 years ago in Brussels on the last day of 1514 – his connection to Basel and the University’s Anatomical Museum, located at Pestalozzistrasse 20, are reason enough to celebrate this anniversary.

By Shirley L. Kearney   

Andreas Vesalius was a humanist, physician and the “father” of modern anatomy. At the age of 28 in 1543, he conducted a public dissection on the cadaver of Jakob Karrer von Gebweiler, a notorious felon in Basel. The bones were assembled, and the skeletal preparation is exhibited at the Anatomical Museum. It is the oldest anatomical preparation of a skeleton in the world.

In the same year, his oeuvre “De humani corporis fabrica” was printed in Basel. The artistic renderings of the anatomist’s findings are as much admired as the medical texts. At that time, Basel was the only city adequately equipped to produce the seven-volume masterpiece; in the 16th century Basel, was a powerhouse of printing. This magnum opus is regarded as the beginning of modern anatomy.

With the goal of making this work available to a wider range of medical professionals, historians and book lovers in general, the medical and scientific publisher Karger in Basel undertook the monumental task of producing an annotated English translation of the 1543 and 1555 edition. It took the translators Daniel Garrison and Malcolm Hast more than 20 years of dedicated labour. A modern 21stcentury rendition of the original typeface, Basel Antiqua, was developed in record time by Swiss font designer Christian Mengelt, who caught the “Vesalius bug” that had infested the rest of the production team.

The ambitious project was made possible through a generous donation by the State of Kuwait, aimed at making it the most important medical book ever available in English.

“The Fabric of the Human Body”, by Karger Publishers (1’400 pages; CHF 1’500), a massive labour of love, is ready for Vesal’s forthcoming birthday celebrations.

Vesalius travelled a great deal and became the chief physician to Charles V. During his lifetime he was a subject of respect and controversy. Returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1564, he was stranded on the island of Zakynothos in the Ionian Sea, where he died and is buried.

Basel has named a street after him – the Vesalgasse, located on Spalenvorstadt 14 at the corner of the Graf and Scheibel Gallery – and the Vesalianum, a lecture hall of the university.koerper-10

Exhibition in the Anatomical Museum: “On the Trail of the Body – From Andreas Vesal to the Present Day – 500 Years”
Interactive and plunging into the virtual world, this exhibition offers a journey through the concepts and representations of the human body. Here you can discover a selection of pictures, objects and testimonies from past and present, between art and science, between medicine and society. Special attention is focused on the doctor Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), one of the founders of modern anatomy, whose 500th birthday will be celebrated in 2014. Exhibits ranging from old works to cutting-edge imaging technology, anatomical specimens or virtual installations invite you to go through the numerous mirrors of our internal body.

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