Research & Publications

Sep 28, 2006

Andreas Vesalius, the Predecessor of Neurosurgery: How his Progressive Scientific Achievements Affected his Professional Life and Destiny

A medical journal by Kenan Arnautovic


Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy and a predecessor of neuroscience, was a distinguished medical scholar and Renaissance figure of the 16th Century Scientific Revolution. He challenged traditional anatomy by applying empirical methods of cadaveric dissection to the study of the human body. His revolutionary book, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, established anatomy as a scientific discipline that challenged conventional medical knowledge but often caused controversy. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain to whom De Humani was dedicated, appointed Vesalius to his court. While in Spain, Vesalius’ work antagonized the academic establishment, current medical knowledge, and ecclesial authority. Consequently, his methods were unacceptable to the academic and religious status quo, therefore, we believe that his professional life—as well as his tragic death—was affected by the political state of affairs that dominated 16th Century Europe. Ultimately, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that jeopardized his life. While returning home, his ship was driven ashore on the Greek island of Zakynthos (Zante) where he became ill and suddenly died in 1564 at the age of 49. Vesalius’ ideas helped free medicine from the limitations of the 16th Century and advanced scientific knowledge. His influence is still felt more than 500 years later. In this article, we acknowledge Vesalius’ neuroanatomic contributions and we discuss the historical facts and political circumstances that influenced his scientific career and personal life, emphasizing the conditions of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land that led to his untimely death.