ach of the initials Vesalius used in the Fabrica tells us a unique story connected to his work as an anatomist dissecting bodies. Some of the initials show techniques used in dissecting that are described in the Fabrica for the first time. If you click on the letters, you can see them enlarged.

The large I

“Resurrectionist” putti unearthing a buried cadaver under cover of darkness.

The large O

Medical putti putting a skull into boiling water to cook away remaining soft tissue

The large Q

Medical putti vivisecting a pig on a vivisection table like the one illustrated in Ch. 7, Bk. II of the 1543 edition.

The large T

Medical putti hoisting the body of a small mammal (perhaps a dog) by its rear legs.

Initial A

Some medical putti are restraining a patient while others prepare to catheterize him. He is suffering from retention of urine.

Initial C

Three men lower a perforated casket into a stream, where it will stay until the moving water strips the tissue away from the bones of a partially dissected cadaver. This method of preparing a skeleton is described at the beginning of Ch. 39, Bk. I.

Initial D

Medical putti use a saw to cut away the bone at the top of a head in preparation for dissection of the brain. The result of this cutting is illustrated in the first nine figures of Bk. VII of the Fabrica.

Initial E

Three medical putti use a traction frame called a glossocomum to reset a man’s dislocated or broken leg.

Initial F

In a variation of the figure for F, a young physician and two assistants use a traction frame to reset a man’s dislocated or broken leg.

Initial H

A physician uses a heated iron plate to cauterize the scalp of a patient being held by his assistant; a medical putto tends the fire that will be used to reheat the plate.

Initial I

Five medical putti attend a parturient woman. The three on the right are holding a dish to receive the placenta.

Initial L

The first of two historiated capitals for this character shows a group of men removing the body of an executed criminal from the gallows for transport to a dissection. A hooded figure on the right holding a cross suggests that this is an officially sanctioned removal and that the remains will be given a Christian burial after the dissection.

Initial L

The second L shows a putto eliminating after an enema, assisted by another putto.

Initial M

Three medical putti inflating a lung as described in Ch. 16, Bk. VI: “[…] make a hole between the cartilages of the rough artery, insert a tube into it, pinch the rough artery above the hole, and inflate the lung. When inflated, it shows its shape more clearly and the heart is completely surrounded.”

Initial N

Medical putti carry a cadaver on a litter above their heads.

Initial O

A civic official hands down the recently severed head of a condemned man to a putto who prepares to receive it in a basin.

Initial P

Three medical putti collecting bones for study at a cemetery. Vesalius refers more than once to his own field trips to the Cemetery of the Innocents at Paris. In one such account, he mentions having to fight off scavenging dogs.

Initial Q

A group of medical putti dissecting a pregnant dog; one is removing a fetal puppy.

Initial R

A continuation of the theme of Q. Three medical putti dissecting a thorax.

Initial S

Dissection by the book. Two medical putti consult books on the right while two others on the left investigate part of a cadaver.

Initial T

Three medical putti kill a stray dog for dissection.

Initial V

Three medical putti with what may be a birthing chair.

More on these initials can be found in Samuel W. Lambert’s article “The Initial Letters of the Anatomical Treatise, De humani corporis fabrica, of Vesalius,” pp. 3–24 in Three Vesalian Essays to Accompany the Icones Anatomicae of 1934 (New York, Macmillan, 1952). See also Charles Metzger, “Les Lettrines de ‘L’Anatomie’ d’André Vesale,” Hippocrate 95.3 (1935), pp. 825–834; Gérard Chaigneau, L’illustration anatomique dans l’oeuvre d’André Vesale (Angers, 1935), pp. 73–79; Klaus Rosenkranz, “Die Initialen in Vesals Anatomie. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der anatomischen Abbildung,” Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften 30 (1937–1938), pp. 35–46.