How Did Renaissance Europeans Learn about Anatomy?

Across Europe, anatomical theaters affiliated with universities in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, and London became tourist attractions in the 17th century. Watching the medical men of the era dissect human bodies brought a certain enlightenment to a wide swathe of society, providing clergymen, magistrates, merchants, administrators -- and even royalty -- with a place to mingle. Anatomical theaters in Leiden and Padua, for example, offered weekly dissections for university students and the public alike, but only during the coldest months of the year, so that the cadavers could be preserved.

A slice of 17th-century life:

  • A trip to the anatomical theater sometimes went hand in hand with viewing a public execution. Shortly after the execution, witnesses could watch the criminal be dissected.
  • A large audience at a dissection brought international prestige to a university, reinforcing its authority in a community.
  • The first anatomical theater was built at the University of Padua in 1594, and is still standing.
More Info: History Today

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