This is not going to be as NSFW as it sounds.
I recently received a link to a Buzzfeed article (thanks, Mom!) featuring Vesalian anatomical drawings sending Snapchat selfies and my life is now complete. Here are just a few for your viewing pleasure (apologies for the language):
The images are courtesy of the Wellcome Library. The legendary captions are courtesy of Alex Kasprak at Buzzfeed. Here is the entirety of the post, because it is everything.
This seems like an excellent segue into extreme nerdery. Specifically nerdery about Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), who featured these images in his famed volume De humani corporis fabrica (1543). Beyond the beautiful (and dark and twisty) imagery, the work of Vesalius revolutionized early modern anatomy. Vesalius advocated a shift of focus from the authority of ancient medical texts and instead championed personal observation in anatomical inquiry. This emphasis sparked quite a hubbub and ignited a feud with his former teacher, Jacobius Sylvius or Jacques Dubois (1478-1555). Sylvius viciously, and publicly, argued that Vesalius’ dismissal of ancient authority was basically anatomical heresy. For example, Sylvius implores his readers: “Honest reader, I urge you to pay no attention to a certain ridiculous madman, one utterly lacking talent who curses and inveighs impiously against his teachers.”
I should note that Sylvius used the Latin word vaesanus for madman, going as far as to use that as the title for his 1551 attack on Vesalius. Say what you want about Sylvius, but that’s pretty clever! Early modern subtweeting?
Anyway, despite Sylvius’ best efforts, Vesalius’ seminal work changed the face (heh, face! get it?!) of anatomical studies in the Renaissance and beyond.
If you want to know more about Vesalius, his feuds, his work and the associated images there are quite a few places to start. Charles D. O’Malley wrote the canonical biography of the anatomist; however, some of the information is now a bit dated. Nancy Siraisi, has explored some aspects of Vesalius’ studies – I particularly like her article on Vesalian teleology. Thomas Rütten’s contribution to Reinventing Hippocrates entitled “Hippocrates and ‘Progress'” is an interesting read that explores the struggle between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ science of the Renaissance.
You could also check out this article from BBC Magazine.
And, most recently (and most excitingly!) a new edition of the De fabrica has been published! Under the direction of Daniel H. Garrison and Malcolm H. Hast, Vesalius’ work has been restored and republished in folio form by Karger. It’s stupid expensive. But it’s also stupid beautiful.
However, if you ever get the chance to see an original edition (like in Newcastle University’s special collections), take it – it’s an experience like none other!