Daniel Garrison and Malcolm Hast
Thanks to the tireless efforts of a pair of Northwestern University professors and a team of University librarians and technology experts, the first part of one of the world's treasures of Renaissance bookmaking was translated into English and published -- complete with its dazzling illustrations -- on the World Wide Web.
Soon the digitized edition of 275 illustrations and diagrams of human anatomy from Andreas Vesalius's “On the Fabric of the Human Body” (De Humani Corporis Fabrica) will be part of a huge, searchable digital art library called ARTstor <www.artstor.org>.
The Fabrica was first published in 1543, the year Copernicus published “Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies.” In the same way that “Revolutions” forever altered our thinking about the place of man in the cosmos, the Fabrica - proclaiming that the body itself is the textbook from which our understanding of human anatomy must arise -- revolutionized science and medical education.
According to Daniel Garrison, the anatomical illustrations in the Fabrica rank with and were more influential than the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Widely distributed throughout Europe, Vesalius's magnificent atlas set a new standard in anatomical illustration. In contrast, da Vinci's sketches went unpublished for centuries.
Garrison, professor of classics at Northwestern, and Malcolm Hast, professor emeritus of otolaryngology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, spearheaded the efforts to put the translated Fabrica and its digitized illustrations on the Web at <http://vesalius.northwestern.edu>. They recently signed a contract giving ARTstor access to these historic illustrations.
All kinds of scholarship and study opportunities will result from its inclusion in ARTstor. Available through University Library and other subscribing institutions, the digital art repository includes more than 300,000 art images and expects to have a half million by the summer of 2006.
Outside the technical and scientific world, the Fabrica's illustrations are prized as masterpieces of Renaissance art. What Vermeer did to educate our sense of perspective, Vesalius and his artists did to inform our vision of the human body and its underlying structures.
ARTstor already includes the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive (MIDA), which is the product of a decade of scholarship by Northwestern's Sarah Fraser. Fraser, associate professor of art history, worked with a team of University media specialists to photograph the largely inaccessible art in the Buddhist cave shrines of Dunhuang, China.
In doing so, she has opened up what is arguably the world's most important Buddhist art site to scholarship. Like Garrison and Hast's work, MIDA will provide opportunities for study in a wide variety of disciplines.
ARTstor is available to all members of the Northwestern community with access to the University server and to visitors to University Library using library computers.