The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

The Impact of the Printing Press

Wound man

A man covered with wounds from a wide variety of weapons. Feldtbůch der Wundtartzney, Hans von Gersdorff's fieldbook of surgery, was first published in 1517 in Strasbourg.

While medical students in the Middle Ages learned medicine through oral lectures and handwritten (manuscript) texts, the use of the printing press after the 1450's led to a proliferation of published medical texts and an increased inclusion of anatomy in medical education. The anatomical illustrations in these Galenic texts were often used as teaching aids, visually representing the educational content of the text.

The zodiac man, wounds man, disease man, and bloodletting man were common illustrations in late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth-century print books, used to help people visualize and remember Galenic medical theories and surgical practice. The zodiac man represented a version of astrological humorism, where signs of the zodiac were thought to influence certain corresponding parts of the body. The wounds man wasn't meant to be a cruel, realistic depiction, but rather it represented the different kinds of wounds inflicted in battle that a barber-surgeon might encounter in his patients.

These anatomical texts often had different audiences depending on the type of medicine discussed within. Medieval and Renaissance physicians learned how to diagnose and treat a patient's humoral imbalance by reading Latin texts in universities. Barber-surgeons learned primarily by hands-on experience, and their responsibilities included caring for wounded soldiers, performing crude surgeries, and setting broken bones, making the profession less prestigious than that of the physician.