Bartolomeo Eustachi: Anatomical Cartographer

The Renaissance ushered in a new movement in medicine. One field to emerge from the Middle Ages with support from monastic healers was surgery. Surgeons, not associated with the Church, began to practice medicine under the guidance of GALEN’s anatomy and physiology. ANDREAS VESALIUS would challenge the ideas set forth by GALEN in the mid-1500’s, garnering support and dissidence among his contemporaries. One such dissident was BARTOLOMEO EUSTACHI (1520-1574 CE).

Anatomists who lived during the Italian Renaissance were granted acceptance to conduct human dissection. The Church permitted the first public dissections during the late Middle Ages, and approved of dissections in deaths with unknown cause.

From these dissections, anatomists partnered with artists and engravers to print their findings in large volumes. VESALIUS, the first to gain wide success with a printed text at this time, identified flaws with GALEN’S observations and set out to develop a text of his own. This text would become his most famous De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (On the fabric of the human body in seven books). This expansive, and expensive, text would lay the foundations for others to improve and discredit GALEN.

Despite compounding evidence, Galenists were still loyal to their prophet’s teachings. VESALIUS himself faced stark criticism from Galenists, culminating in his departure from the University of Padua. Other men, sought to advance GALEN with new illustrations, which brings us to EUSTACHI.

EUSTACHI trained at Padua around the same period as VESALIUS, the former having died ten years after VESALIUS. As a dissident to De fabrica, EUSTACHI set out on his own device to develop a text to enhance GALEN. We will not delve into whether his views on GALEN were substantiated, in the long run they were not: here we observe his illustrations.

Illustrators during the Renaissance set out to make their illustrations more artistically attractive. After all, they were depicting the dead. Unconscious to the viewer, is the manner in which illustrations are labeled. Texts from the Renaissance depict two main types of labeling: labeling in the subject (see left) or labeling with identification lines. The former is more aesthetically pleasing since the latter gives an impression the subject has been impaled by a series of lines. However, labeling in the subject can present a challenge to the viewer if there is not enough contrast between the identification symbol and the background.

EUSTACHI developed a completely novel method to label his illustrations. Employing a technique familiar to cartographers, EUSTACHI places a border around his plate and marks off coordinates. This manner of labeling had not been seen from previous illustrators, and rarely, if ever, was it seen again. Naturally, the coordinates would correspond to a body part charted in a table. This strategy is very aesthetically pleasing, more so than labeling in the subject. Organs and subjects are presented without any intrusion of labeling. One caveat to this method is that it requires more work for the viewer to ascertain the identity of the desired structure, which might explain the rare use of this technique.

Sadly, the illustrations EUSTACHI developed, along with PIETRO PINI and GUILIA DE’MUSI, his illustrators, would never reach publication. Instead, his work would not be printed until the late 18th century when rediscovered by the Pope’s physician, GIOVANNI LANCISI. The title of EUSTACHI’S work is Tabulae anatomicae (Anatomical Tables).

History will favor EUSTACHI. Not only was his illustrations printed in vibrant color, he is also credited for the discovery of the Eustachian tube (his namesake), thoracic duct, and adrenal glands. Though his target was VESALIUS, EUSTACHI contributed greatly to the advancement of medicine, and his illustrations represent his enduring legacy.

Images courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

5 comments

  1. I love those old drawings, like a flailed person is just wandering round… must have been a bit chilly!

  2. hmm…what happened on the overlapping organs and such? did he make different drawings of each system? and how did he handle “unknown” things? Did he leave them out?

    1. Here is an example of the organ systems he illustrated As for the unknowns, I am not sure. He may have drawn them in and left them unlabeled, but that is pure speculation.

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