Europe is both a continent and a nominal collection of city states and countries linked by onetime empires, religion, warfare, and a diverse culture that nevertheless allowed for the interpenetration of languages and ideas. During the European Renaissance, Enlightenment, and early nineteenth century, the major locations of medical study remained universities and colleges. Though the leading schools were initially in Italy, attracting students from the rest of Europe, over time Northern Europe, including the Netherlands, England, Scotland and France would establish their own prominent medical schools and traditions.
During the European Renaissance, the rediscovery of ancient texts on medicine and the publication and distribution of new editions, made possible by the introduction of the printing press, ushered in a new age of anatomy. With it came a new demand for the dissection of the human body for teaching and investigation. Initially, this was to demonstrate the writings of ancient authors and then to challenge their findings, which were based on comparative rather than human anatomy. The practice of autopsy, the dissection of the body to determine the cause of death, was also a source of anatomical knowledge.
Along with a new interest in human dissection, there were revolutionary developments in anatomical illustration. Prior to the Renaissance, the structure of the body was described primarily in words. What medical imagery there was in the medieval manuscript tradition tended towards diagrammatic representation. In illustrated anatomy books, Vesalius’s De fabrica (1543) being a notable and influential example, there is a discernable move toward a naturalistic representation of the body, and a new emphasis on the power of images to explain the interior of the human form. Different printing techniques also affected the evolution of anatomical illustration, such as copper plate engraving, which allowed for finer detail, and the adoption of color printing.