Dittrick Medical History Center

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Upcoming Events


October 25th 6:00 pm Anton and Rose Zverina Lecture 2018

Doug Lanska MD, MS, MSPH will present “Hidden in plain view: Discovering the work of a 16th-century anatomist hidden in the historiated initials of Andreas Vesalius—Surprising images of the healing, stealing, dissecting, and vivisecting of bodies.” Many will recognize the figure Andreas Vesalius, a maverick 16th-century Flemish anatomist, physician, and author of one of the most influential books in the history of medicine, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body).  This revolutionary work of anatomy, with its iconic images of the human body, threw Renaissance anatomy into a tumultuous and contentious chaos, and ultimately overturned doctrines that had survived from Galen in the 2ndcentury—over 1300 years!  Most might also recognize the sublime anatomical figures, that are so widely admired. Fewer among us, myself included, have given much notice to the historiated initials, the larger blocked letters of the alphabet that appear at the beginning of important sections and paragraphs. In a very real way, they are simply hiding in plain sight. But Dr. Lanska will reveal the value of giving them closer scrutiny. At first, the historiated initials might seem cartoonish figures in comparison to the anatomical figures, and are sometimes indeed vulgar and frequently marked by macabre humor.  Doug’s research on these historiated initials reveals a different side of Vesalius’ genius, and his sense of humor, in portraying vividly the sordid details of the methods used to gain the knowledge shown in the anatomical plates. Plan to join us for this fascinating historical discovery.

Dr. Lanska is Professor of Philosophy and the History of Medicine at the I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University in Russia.  He has been Professor of Neurology at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Kentucky, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Chief of Staff and Associate Chief of Staff for Education at the Tomah VA Medical Center.

Temporary Exhibit

June 7- November 1, 2018. Dissection of the brain in woodcut: A visual exploration of Renaissance anatomy from Gersdorff to Vesalius

How do we see? And how does what we see influence meaning? We welcome you to a unique exhibit that presents early anatomies of the brain, our still-mysterious seat of consciousness. The exhibit presents woodcut anatomies from the early 1500s to the groundbreaking work of Andreas Vesalius, father of anatomy, in editions of 1543 and 1555, to later texts that take concepts of brain and mind into the future. But the exhibit also asks the viewer to think about how image and understanding work together, and to practice their own ways of “seeing.”

Anatomists and artists worked together to create the amazing woodcuts presented here, but these collaboration were also exercises in interpretation. Try as we might to render exactly what we see, what we see is deeply affected by our own understanding, our prejudices, our preconceived notions. By creating anatomies that brought new anatomical features to light, anatomists and artists help to create new meanings. Once merely a jelly of gray matter, the brain begins to take shape in new ways, to have new and more important place in our understanding. Today, we consider the brain to be the locus of the mind, the self, us. We have only arrived there by seeing the brain more clearly, and through constantly re-evaluating what we see. We invite you, the viewer, to take a similar journey. Each panel will ask you to ponder questions about the visual representation. Join us on a voyage of discovery through woodcut and paint to a better understanding of the brain.

Page last modified: August 13, 2018