THE ANDREAS VESALIUS WOODBLOCKS: A FOUR HUNDRED YEAR JOURNEY FROM CREATION TO DESTRUCTION
The purpose of this study was to trace the history of woodblocks created in 1542 by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). Carved by the Venetian workmen on pear tree boards, the woodblocks were used in the Basel printing of Vesalius’ works De Humani Corporis Fabrica and Epitome from 1543, The China Root Epistle (1546), and the frontispiece of the Fabrica, the edition from 1555. The blocks remained with the printer Oporinus in Basel until his death in 1568 when they were sold to the Froben family. The woodblocks reappeared in 1706 in a publication by Maschenbauer and were subsequently used by Leveling in 1783. An incomplete set of woodblocks was moved from Inglostadt to Landshut and then to Munich where Roth in 1885 documented them. At the suggestion of an American physician, Samuel Lambert, the University of Munich found the “missing” woodblocks in the attic. This led Wiegand and the New York Academy of Medicine to publish the woodblocks in the Icones Anatomicae in 1934. The second edition frontispiece was returned to Louvain where it was destroyed by bombing in 1940 and all the remaining woodblocks were destroyed in Allied bombing between 1943 and 1945. Thus, the Vesalius woodblocks travelled a 400-year journey from their creation, through the use in eight publications with over 5000 prints and ended in their tragic destruction.
Key words: Anatomy; census; dissection; Epitome; Fabrica; human; Vesalius; printing; illustrations; physicians; universities.