Graphical Editing for the Northwestern Fabrica


All but a few of the images presented on this website were scanned at 600 dpi as line art and saved as GIF files. Due to the exigencies of cutting each image into a wood block, inking the block, making an impression on 16th century paper, producing a photomechanical facsimile edition more than 400 years later, and making a scanned digital copy of that facsimile, considerable degradation of the original ink drawing occurred.

Graphical editing was therefore necessary to reconstruct what we believe Vesalius and his artists intended the reader to see, with particular attention to the small Greek and Latin characters and other glyphs identifying anatomical features to be described in Vesalius‚ narrative.

Because no two woodcut images can be identical on account of variations in inking and irregularities in the paper, the images you see on this website are not restorations of the printed figures so much as reconstructions of the ink drawings on which the woodcuts were based, following scrutiny of Northwestern‚s specimen of the 1555 Fabrica. We also consulted a copy of Saunders and O'Malley's The Illustrations from The Works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels (World Publishing/ Dover Publications 1950/1973) containing images from Icones Anatomicae, a 1934 printing from the actual wood blocks of the Fabrica, made before their destruction by Allied bombing of Munich in 1943. Besides the visual evidence, we made use of Vesalius‚ figure legends explaining the characters and what they identify. As you will see if you examine the details closely, such editing is not an exact science and produces figures that show what was probably intended without total fidelity to original drawings that are (after all) long gone.

The before-and-after comparison shown here is a detail from Vesalius‚ full-page figure illustrating the 30 nerve pairs originating from the spinal medulla and their distribution through the body, the second of three figures preceding chapter 11 in Book 3. The entire figure, containing 149 characters, stands 336 mm (13-1/4") high. This detail is about 64 mm (2-1/2") high in the original. It contains 35 characters, not counting the truncated "10" on the tenth vertebra.