Indiana University Bloomington

Anatomia Animata: Anatomy and Medicine in William Harvey's Century

The Head

While many aspects of the gross anatomy of the brain had been described in the sixteenth century by such individuals as Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) and Johannes Dryander (1500–1560), the understanding of the brain and the nerves began to develop rapidly in the seventeenth century. Through innovative experimental procedures such as injections, the paths of the vessels in the brain could be more clearly delineated. The success of this technique is most clearly seen in Thomas Willis' discovery of the cerebral arterial circle (aka the 'Circle of Willis'). Physicians and researchers during this period, such as Willis and René Descartes, also began to develop a brain–centered psychology.

René Descartes. De Homine Figuris et Latinitate Donatus a Florentio Schuyl ... Leiden: Apud Petrum Leffen & Franciscum Moyardum, 1662.

Descartes believed that movements in the body were determined by the flow of animal spirits, and these in turn were controlled by the action of the pineal gland in the brain. The rational soul was believed to be closely associated with the pineal, which is centrally located in the cerebral marrow. Thus, changes in the will move the pineal gland and divert the flow of animal spirits, allowing a man to move in whatever way he desires.

This Latin edition of Descartes' L'Homme was published posthumously by Florentinus Schuyl. The French edition of this text can be viewed in the section devoted to medicine and mechanization.

Joseph–Guichard Duverney. Traité de l'organe de l'ouie, contenant la structure, les usages et les maladies de toutes les parties de l'oreille ... Paris: Chez Estienne Michallet, 1683.

This text, the first extensive, scientific treatment of the human ear, is the only major work published by Duverney. In it he is concerned with the structure, function, and diseases of the ear, discerned primarily from a careful study of the ear's sensory innervation. Duverney believed that the transmission of sound into the ear occurred mechanically as vibrations carried through the air and transmitted via the malleus, incus, and stapes; he also believed that the vibrations produced a flow of spirits through the nerves to the brain, allowing for the sensation of sound.

Govard Bidloo. Anatomia Humani Corporis, Centum & Quinque Tabulis ... Amsterdam: Sumptibus Viduae Joannis à Someren, Haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & Viduae Theodori Boom, 1685.

Bidloo's text was the first large–scale anatomical atlas to be published since Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica in 1543 and 1555. Whereas Vesalius' images were woodcuts, Bidloo's were created with copperplates.

The images of the brain and the nerves were particularly useful to the seventeenth–century researcher and physician as they showed structures in much greater detail than would have been possible in a smaller book. However, the text came under considerable criticism, as it did not contain much explanation of the figures.

Thomas Willis. Cerebri Anatome: Cui Accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usus. London: Typis T. Roycroft, Impensis J. Martyn & J. Allestry, 1664.

Assisted by Richard Lower, Willis' Cerebri Anatome provided the most complete and accurate account of the nervous system that had hitherto appeared, and his text remained popular and useful well into the eighteenth century. In this work, Willis reported his discovery (with Lower) of the cerebral arterial circle, which bears Willis' name today ("The Circle of Willis"). He also identified and traced the paths of the cranial nerves with more precision and detail than had previously been done.

These images, which represent a large part of the nervous system, are excellent representations of the attention to detail present throughout Willis' work. Willis' Cerebri Anatome contained the most accurate description of the cranial nerves and their pathways to date.

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Last Updated: 1 August 2009
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