Issue: Spring 2015

Vesalius and the Invention of the Modern Body

On February 26‐28, 2015, Saint Louis University and Washington University jointly hosted an interdisciplinary conference, Vesalius and the Invention of the Modern Body, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andreas Vesalius (1514‐1564) and his landmark publication De humani corporis fabrica. Often considered to be the founder of the study of modern human anatomy, Vesalius has influenced generations of physicians, philosophers, artists, writers and researchers. The invited list of speakers included internationally known scholars working in the various fields to examine the impact of Vesalius and his contemporaries on perceptions of the human body in medical, intellectual, and artistic contexts from the early modern period through the present.

Close to 300 individuals attended sessions held on Thursday evening and all day Friday at several venues on both the Frost and Medical School campuses of Saint Louis University as well as at Washington University on Saturday. On Thursday evening, Dr. Philip Alderson, Dean of the Medical School, opened the first session, which included presentations by Dr. Stephen Joffe, the Belgian artist Pascale Pollier, and SLU’s Dr. Gregory Smith, who gave personal tours of the medical labs in the Doisy Learning Research Center. Dr. Joffe sponsored the welcome reception that followed the session. An art exhibit, Ars Anatomica: A Medical Fantasia by Leonard Baskin, curated by Kate Bax was also on display in the Medical Center Library.

On Friday morning at Cook Hall Fr. Michael Barber, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, introduced presentations by Andrea Carlino (University of Geneva), Cynthia Klestinec (Miami‐University Ohio), Jonathan Sawday (SLU), and Glenn Harcourt (Independent Scholar from Pasadena, CA). After a lunch break in the Sinquefield Stateroom, the conference moved to the PASE Center at Young Hall, where Dr. Solomon Segal of SLU’s Medical School performed a dissection of the brain in which he used a 3‐D camera and projector to compare it with the illustrations from Vesalius’s De Fabrica. A highlight of the conference, Dr. Segal’s dissection was followed by an erudite keynote address presented by Malcolm Hast and Daniel Garrison of Northwestern University, authors of the new translation of Vesalius’s De Fabrica published by Karger and recently added to the Pius XII Rare Book Collections.

The conference attendees enjoyed a reception and two art exhibitions at Pius XII Library. One exhibit included works from the touring Fabrica Vitae exhibit of Vesalius‐inspired art by contemporary artists. The other exhibit, titled The Anatomist: Medical Satire in Early Modern Print and Performance, curated by Debra Cashion and Elisabeth Barrett, class of 2015, included early modern prints, illustrated books, and scripts from Restoration period plays. Also on display at the library was a color banner of the title page of the Fabrica copy made for Emperor Charles V. Friday ended with a hilarious staged reading of Edward Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist, by Saint Louis University theatre majors and directed by Lucy Cashion of the ERA theatre company of St. Louis.

Many attendees and speakers said that ours was the best conference they had ever attended. One speaker in particular said that he had never been treated so well by any university. Participants especially appreciated the long coffee breaks, which for theme were an opportunity to exchange ideas and to network. The Vesalius Planning Committee is very pleased with the outcome of this conference and would like to thank everyone at SLU for your generous support, which was crucial to the success of an ambitious conference program with many moving parts.

Debra Cashion 08 April 2015

Contact the Author

Debra Cashion
Assistant Librarian
Associate Editor, Manuscripta

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