With the publication of De humani corporis fabrica (when he was only twenty-eight) Vesalius revolutionised both the science of anatomy and how it was taught. In his preface, he describes his disappointing experiences as a student in Paris and Louvain, stating his intention to reform the teaching of anatomy by giving in this book a complete description of the structure of the human body and thereby drawing attention "to the falsity of Galen’s pronouncements". Vesalius also broke with tradition by performing dissections himself instead of leaving this task to assistants: the striking and dramatic title-page illustration shows him conducting such a dissection, his hand plunged into a female cadaver (striking in itself as only the cadavers of executed criminals could be legally dissected and female criminals were rarely executed), surrounded by a seething mass of students.
The Fabrica is also revolutionary for “its unprecedented blending of scientific exposition, art and typography” (Norman). Vesalius took great care with every aspect of his book: his letter to Joannes Oporinus, reproduced in the prefatory matter (*5r-v), discusses the layout of the book, the system of reference between text and image and the delivery of the woodcut blocks. The numerous and elegant illustrations, including the title-page and the frequently disarming woodcut initials, were entrusted to Jan Stephan van Calcar (1499-1546), a student of Titian who had also worked on Vesalius's Tabulae anatomicae sex of 1537-1538. The beauty and accuracy of these woodcuts led to frequent piracy, despite Vesalius's attempts to protect his work with various privileges (as stated at the foot of the title-page).
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