''De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem'' (
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through the power of ...
, lit. "On the fabric of the human body in seven books") is a set of books on
human anatomy The human body is the structure of a human being. It is composed of many different types of cells that together create tissues and subsequently organ systems. They ensure homeostasis and the viability of the human body. It comprises a hea ...
written by
Andreas Vesalius Andreas Vesalius (Latinized from Andries van Wezel) () was a 16th-century anatomist, physician, and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, ''De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem'' (''On the fabric of the human body'' '' ...
(1514–1564) and published in 1543. It was a major advance in the
history of anatomy The history of anatomy extends from the earliest examinations of sacrificial victims to the sophisticated analyses of the body performed by modern anatomists and scientists. Written descriptions of human organs and parts can be traced back thous ...
over the long-dominant work of
Galen Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus ( el, Κλαύδιος Γαληνός; September 129 – c. AD 216), often Anglicized as Galen () or Galen of Pergamon, was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. Considered to be on ...
, and presented itself as such. The collection of books is based on his Paduan lectures, during which he deviated from common practice by dissecting a corpse to illustrate what he was discussing.
Dissection Dissection (from Latin ' "to cut to pieces"; also called anatomization) is the dismembering of the body of a deceased animal or plant to study its anatomical structure. Autopsy is used in pathology and forensic medicine to determine the cause o ...
s had previously been performed by a barber surgeon under the direction of a doctor of medicine, who was not expected to perform manual labour. Vesalius's '' magnum opus'' presents a careful examination of the organs and the complete structure of the human body. This would not have been possible without the many advances that had been made during the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries, characterized by an effort to revive and surpass idea ...
, including artistic developments in literal visual representation and the technical development of printing with refined
woodcut Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that ...
engravings. Because of these developments and his careful, immediate involvement, Vesalius was able to produce illustrations superior to any produced previously.

Books of the collection

Vesalius arranged his work into seven books.

Book 1: The Bones and Cartilages

The first book constitutes about a quarter of the entire collection. It presents Vesalius' observations on human bones and cartilage, which he collected from cemeteries. It covers the physical appearance of human bones and the differentiation of human bones and cartilage by function. In each chapter Vesalius describes the bones in great detail, explaining their physical qualities in different ways. In the opening chapters, Vesalius "gives general aspects of bones and skeletal organisation, dealing with the differences in texture, strength, and resilience between bone and cartilage; explaining the complex differences between types of joints and reviewing some basic elements of descriptive techniques and terminology." A major theme of this book is whether
Galen Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus ( el, Κλαύδιος Γαληνός; September 129 – c. AD 216), often Anglicized as Galen () or Galen of Pergamon, was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. Considered to be on ...
described the bones of the human skeleton accurately. When Vesalius lectured on the human skeleton, he also presented the bones of animals to give credibility to Galen's observations.

Book 2: The Ligaments and Muscles

Here Vesalius describes the structure of the muscles, the agents used in creating movement by the body, and the material used to hold the joints together. Through his observations of butchers cutting meat, he was able to incorporate the skills they used in the dissection of the human body. The order in which to dissect a human body to effectively observe each muscle in the body is laid out. Each illustration displays a deepening view of the human body which can be followed while dissecting a human body. Vesalius also mentions the instruments needed to perform a dissection. Here Vesalius begins to describe how Galen's anatomical descriptions do not match his own observations. In order to show respect to Galen, he suggests Galen's use of anatomical structure is in fact correct, but not for humans. He even continues to describe some of the structures in the way Galen would.

Book 3: The Veins and Arteries, Book 4: The Nerves

In Books 3 and 4, Vesalius describes the veins, arteries, and nerves as vessels, but notes their differing physical structure: veins and arteries contains a hollow channel, but nerves do not. Vesalius describes the route by which air travels through the lungs and the heart. He describes this process as "a tree whose trunks divide into branches and twigs". He also describes how the body contains four veins (the portal vein, the venae cavae, the artery-like vein ow_understood_as_the_Pulmonary_Vein.html" ;"title="Pulmonary_Vein.html" ;"title="ow understood as the Pulmonary Vein">ow understood as the Pulmonary Vein">Pulmonary_Vein.html" ;"title="ow understood as the Pulmonary Vein">ow understood as the Pulmonary Vein and the umbilical vein) and two arteries (the aorta, and the vein-like artery [now understood as the Pulmonary Artery]) as being the main vessels which branch out into smaller veins and arteries. Vesalius lists some six hundred vessels in his tabulation of arteries, veins and nerves, but fails to mention the smaller vessels located in the hands and feet, the terminal vessels of the cutaneous nerves, or the vessels in the lungs and liver.

Book 5: The Organs of Nutrition and Generation

Vesalius gives detailed descriptions of the organs of nutrition, the urinary system, and the male and female reproductive systems. The alimentary and reproductive systems each make up about forty percent of this book, and the description of the renal system and the correct technique for dissecting it makes up the remainder. In the final chapter, the longest chapter of the entire collection, Vesalius gives detailed step-by-step instructions on how to dissect the abdominopelvic organs. In the first half of the book, Vesalius describes the peritoneum, the esophagus, the stomach, the omentum, the intestines and the mesentery. He then goes on to describe the liver, gallbladder, and the spleen. Finally, he describes the kidneys, the bladder, and the ureters. Vesalius was unfamiliar with the anatomy of pregnancy, which lead him to erroneously provide illustrations of a zonary (band-shaped) placenta and fetal membrane in the 1543 edition of ''De Fabrica''; Vesalius does so relying on Galenic medicine which used canine reproductive organs rather than human female reproductive organs. The illustrations are corrected in the 1555 edition. The new images depict a discoid
placenta The placenta is a temporary embryonic and later fetal organ that begins developing from the blastocyst shortly after implantation. It plays critical roles in facilitating nutrient, gas and waste exchange between the physically separate matern ...
and fetal membrane.

Book 6: The Heart and Associated Organs, Book 7: The Brain

These books describe the structure and functions of the heart and the organs of respiration, the brain and its coverings, the eye, the organs of sensation, and the nerves of the limbs. A chapter is also devoted to the dissection of the eye. Vesalius describes the organs of the body in great detail by commenting "on the variable strength of the attachment of the pleura to the thoracic walls, the strong attachment of the pericardium to the diaphragm, the shape and orientation of the ventricles of the heart, and the description of the semilunar valves." He closes each book with a chapter on the correct way to dissect the heart and the brain respectively.

Galen's errors

Galen, the prominent
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. ** Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
physician A physician (American English), medical practitioner ( Commonwealth English), medical doctor, or simply doctor, is a health professional who practices medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring health through t ...
surgeon In modern medicine, a surgeon is a medical professional who performs surgery. Although there are different traditions in different times and places, a modern surgeon usually is also a licensed physician or received the same medical training ...
philosopher A philosopher is a person who practices or investigates philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek th ...
in the
Roman empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post- Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings around the Medit ...
had written on anatomy among other topics, but his work remained largely unchecked until the time of Vesalius. The ''Fabrica'' rectified some of Galen's worst errors, including the notion that the great blood vessels originated from the liver. Other errors rectified included the idea that the human
mandible In anatomy, the mandible, lower jaw or jawbone is the largest, strongest and lowest bone in the human facial skeleton. It forms the lower jaw and holds the lower teeth in place. The mandible sits beneath the maxilla. It is the only movable bone ...
was in two parts (it is, in fact, in one part) and that men had fewer ribs than women. Disproving this decreased Vesalius' popularity with the
Church Church may refer to: Religion * Church (building), a building for Christian religious activities * Church (congregation), a local congregation of a Christian denomination * Church service, a formalized period of Christian communal worship * Chris ...
as it contradicted the Biblical understanding of
Adam and Eve Adam and Eve, according to the creation myth of the Abrahamic religions, were the first man and woman. They are central to the belief that humanity is in essence a single family, with everyone descended from a single pair of original ancestors. ...
. While examining a human corpse, Vesalius discovered that Galen's observations were inconsistent with those of his, due to Galen's use of animal (dog and monkey) cadavers. Overall, Vesalius's use of human corpses allowed him to rectify approximately 300 of Galen's errors. Even with his improvements, however, Vesalius clung to some of Galen's errors, such as the idea that a different type of blood flowed through veins than through arteries. It was not until
William Harvey William Harvey (1 April 1578 – 3 June 1657) was an English physician who made influential contributions in anatomy and physiology. He was the first known physician to describe completely, and in detail, the systemic circulation and proper ...
's work on the circulation of the blood ('' De Motu Cordis'', 1628) that this misconception of Galen's would be rectified in Europe.


1543 edition

Vesalius had the work published at the age of 28, taking great pains to ensure its quality, and dedicated it to
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, french: Charles Quint, it, Carlo V, nl, Karel V, ca, Carles V, la, Carolus V (24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria from 1519 to 1556, King of Spain ( Castile and Aragon) fro ...
. The more than 250 illustrations are of great artistic merit and are generally attributed by modern scholars to the "studio of
Titian Tiziano Vecelli or Vecellio (; 27 August 1576), known in English as Titian ( ), was an Italian ( Venetian) painter of the Renaissance, considered the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, ...
" rather than Johannes Stephanus of Calcar, who provided drawings for Vesalius' earlier tracts. The woodcuts were greatly superior to the illustrations in anatomical atlases of the day, which were never made by anatomy professors themselves. The woodcut blocks were transported to
Basel, Switzerland , french: link=no, Bâlois(e), it, Basilese , neighboring_municipalities= Allschwil (BL), Hégenheim (FR-68), Binningen (BL), Birsfelden (BL), Bottmingen (BL), Huningue (FR-68), Münchenstein (BL), Muttenz (BL), Reinach (BL), Riehen (BS), ...
, as Vesalius wished that the work be published by one of the foremost printers of the time,
Johannes Oporinus Johannes Oporinus (also Johannes Oporin; Latinised from the original German name: ''Johannes Herbster'' or ''Hans Herbst'') (25 January 1507 – 7 July 1568) was a humanist printer in Basel. Life Johannes Oporinus, the son of the painter Han ...
. Vesalius' written directions to Oporinus (the ''iter'') were so valuable the printer decided to include them. The illustrations were engraved on wooden blocks, which allowed for very fine detail.

1555 edition

A second edition was published in 1555. Annotations in a copy of that edition donated to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library,
University of Toronto The University of Toronto (UToronto or U of T) is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, located on the grounds that surround Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King's College, the first institution ...
, have been identified as Vesalius's own, showing that he was contemplating a third edition, never achieved.


The success of ''Fabrica'' recouped the work's considerable expense, and brought Vesalius European fame, partly through cheap unauthorized copies. He was appointed physician to the
Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Charles V, french: Charles Quint, it, Carlo V, nl, Karel V, ca, Carles V, la, Carolus V (24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria from 1519 to 1556, King of Spain ( Castile and Aragon) fr ...
; Vesalius presented him with the first published copy (bound in silk of imperial purple, with specially hand-painted illustrations not found in any other copy). To accompany the ''Fabrica'', Vesalius published a condensed and less expensive ''Epitome'': at the time of publication in 1543, it cost 10
batzen The batzen is an historical Swiss, south German and Austrian coin. It was first produced in Berne, Switzerland, from 1492 and continued in use there until the mid-19th century. Name Bernese chronicler Valerius Anshelm explained the word f ...
. As a result, the ''Epitome'' became more widely seen than the ''Fabrica''; it contained eight anatomical engravings that condensed visual material from the ''Fabrica'', one illustration of the human skeleton taken directly from the ''Fabrica'', and two new woodcut plates.

Human remains

During the 16th century, the dissection of human bodies was highly prohibited by the Church. Therefore, in order to combat this opposition, Vesalius had to secretly take the bodies of executed criminals, a process which he explains in '' De Humani Corporis Fabrica''. This process of stealing the dead bodies of criminals was a key way for anatomists and artists to study the human body. For example in 1828 the case of Burke and Hare, whereby the bodies were delivered to anatomists for dissection, were murdered specifically for financial gain.

Surviving copies

More than 700 copies survive from the 1543 and 1555 editions. Of those, by 2018 some 29 copies were in London, 20 in Paris, 14 in Boston, 13 in New York, 12 in Cambridge (England), and 11 each in Oxford and Rome. John Hay Library at
Brown University Brown University is a private research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providen ...
owns a copy bound in tanned human skin. File:De humani corporis fabrica (24).jpg File:Fourth muscle man, by Vesalius. Wellcome L0001647.jpg File:De humani corporis fabrica (25).jpg File:De humani corporis fabrica (27).jpg File:De humani corporis fabrica (26).jpg Some of the images, even though separated by several pages in the text, make a continuous landscape panorama in the background when placed side-by-side.


'' De Humani Corporis Fabrica'', a 2022 documentary film about the human body by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, was named after the book series.Jordan Mintzer
"‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’: Film Review , Cannes 2022"
The Hollywood Reporter ''The Hollywood Reporter'' (''THR'') is an American digital and print magazine which focuses on the Cinema of the United States, Hollywood film industry, film, television, and entertainment industries. It was founded in 1930 as a daily trade pap ...
'', May 23, 2022.

See also

* List of most expensive books and manuscripts



* O'Malley, C.D. ''Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564''. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964. * Vesalius, Andreas. ''De humani corporis fabrica libri septem'' itle page: ''Andreae Vesalii Bruxellensis, scholae medicorum Patauinae professoris De humani corporis fabrica libri septem'' Basileae asel ''Ex officina'' Joannis Oporini, 1543.


* Vesalius, Andreas. ''On the Fabric of the Human Body,'' translated by W. F. Richardson and J. B. Carman. 5 vols. San Francisco and Novato: Norman Publishing, 1998-2009. * Vesalius, Andreas. ''The Fabric of the Human Body. An Annotated Translation of the 1543 and 1555 Editions'', edited by D.H. Garrison and M.H. Hast, Northwestern University, 2003. * Vesalius, Andreas.
La Fabrique du corps humain (1543), livre I dans La fabrique de Vésale et autres textes
'. First translation in French by J. Vons et S. Velut, Paris, BIU Santé, 2014.

External links

Andreae Vesalii Bruxellensis, Dе humani corporis fabrica libri septem, Basileae 1543

A U.S. National Library of Medicine project to digitize images and plates from "rare and beautiful historic books in the biomedical sciences".

Selected images from the original work. National Library of Medicine.
''De Humani Corporis Fabrica'' online
— translated with full images, from Northwestern University
Andreae Vesalii bruxellensis, scholae medicorum Patavinae professoris, de Humani corporis fabrica Libri septem
Basileae, ex officina Ioannis Oporini, June 1543.
Selected images from ''De humani corporis fabrica''
From The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library
Anatomia 1522–1867: Anatomical Plates from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Andreae Vesalii Bruxellensis, Dе humani corporis fabrica libri septem, Venetiis 1548
{{Authority control 1543 books Anatomy books History of anatomy 1543 in science 1543 in Europe 16th-century Latin books