Blurring the Lines: Private and Public Dissection in Renaissance Italy
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From the fourteenth through the eighteenth century in Europe human dissection came to be practiced for a variety of purposes. Private dissections, in the forms of judicial, holy, and maternal anatomies, were performed, respectively, for the purposes of generating medical evidence that could be used in court, finding markings inside of a holy individual’s body that would confirm his or her sainthood, and to diagnose diseases which could have negative implications for the future of a family. Public dissections, on the other hand, were performed in university settings as a demonstrative and didactic technique, as well as a sort of public spectacle to gain attention and prestige for the institution hosting the event. This paper will delve deeper into these varieties of dissection, both public and private, as well as the extents to which they intersected and worked together to build off of one another. The final part of the paper will also consider an important anatomical figure – Andreas Vesalius – who performed anatomical work both privately and publically and who, with the publishing of his famous anatomical text De humani corporis fabrica in 1543, revolutionized medical and anatomical practice forever.