The "Real" Father of Anatomy

It is Andreas Vesalius, not Leonardo da Vinci, that is known as the Father of Anatomy and is mentioned in modern anatomy books today. Vesalius was an anatomist and physician from Brussels. He published “De humani corporis fabrica” (translated to “On the Fabric of the Human Body”) in 1543, which is known as the first modern anatomy textbook. Vesalius’s book followed many of da Vinci’s previous studies and challenged dogmas set by previous anatomist Galen. Many of Galen’s observations were related to old theory (humorism) and animal dissections, since human dissections were outlawed by Roman Law. Vesalius was able to get his hands on a few human cadavers and rectified some of Galen’s errors, such as the thought the heart contains the great vessels of the body versus the liver. Vesalius was also the “first” to note that bones gave humans their shape and depicted this through detailed drawings of bone, ligament, and muscle. Vesalius described many body systems in extraordinary detail, which was thought to never have been done before. But da Vinci made extraordinary advances and detailed notebook entries of anatomy years before Vesalius was even born. Da Vinci used his artistic ability and mind for mechanics to create detailed drawings of the human body and body systems. Some of his most infamous drawing and notes were related to muscle/ ligaments, the heart, skull, and fetus. His talent as an artist won him opportunities to dissect over 30 cadavers (compared to Vesalius’s few), allowing him to prove Galen wrong years before Vesalius. Unfortunately, da Vinci’s works were never published, so his genius had little impact on the advancement of anatomy.


Bridges, C.D. (2015). Biology 201/203: Human Anatomy and Physiology. Plymouth, MI. Hayden-McNeil.

Toledo-Pereyra, L.H. (2009). Leonardo da Vinci: The Hidden Father of Modern Anatomy. Journal of Investigative Surgery, 15(5), 247-249).

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