The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Pre-Vesalian Early Renaissance Texts

The fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 resulted, among other things, in the emigration of Greek scholars to Northern Italy. This influx of new thinkers meshed with the first wave of humanist scholars, who began to collect the writings of Galen in the original Greek. Their efforts to translate, edit and publish Galen's writings resulted in the observation that the Medieval Latin versions of his work, as well as the works of Avicenna, contained errors. True to the spirit of the first Humanists, these scholars were motivated to return ad fontes, or "to the source," in order to achieve the truest sense of classical thought.

New publications of Greek texts were augmented by the publication of new works that challenged those errors. Jacopo Berengario da Carpi (c. 1460 – 1530), a professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Bologna, wrote two major anatomical works: the Commentaria super anatomia mundini (1522), the first full-scale illustrated anatomical text, and the summary of the Commentaria, the Isagogae breves (1523). Based on his own surgery, and supposedly on more than one hundred human dissections, these texts mark a stylistic shift from the medieval to the Renaissance with their more realistic posing, though the drawings were still rather crude. Berengario was critical of Galen's works when evidence could not be found to support Galen's assumptions, or when Berengario's dissections uncovered new knowledge.

The impetus to be critical of ancient texts set the stage for future Renaissance advances in anatomical knowledge, particularly the work of Vesalius.