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Medical Renaissance is the term often applied to the period, around 1400 to 1750, of major progress in medical knowledge and a renewed interest in the ancient ideas of the Greeks and Romans. This movement was made possible by the Reformation of the Church, a decline in Conservatism, the work of individuals such as Andreas Vesalius & William Harvey and technological advances. All of these took place during the Renaissance period.

Despite the medical advances made during this period, it would take many hundreds of years before the effects of the progress would be felt, even by the people highest in the social order; Charles II of England died at the age of 55, in 1685, of a stroke, despite having some of the most respected and educated doctors in the country treating him. They tried methods such as bleeding, laxatives and giving him a potion containing a bezoar stone, despite these methods having been proved ineffective by Ambroise Paré and having been made inferior by other treatments that were developed during this time.


Without several interlinking factors, the progress made during the Medical Renaissance towards medical understanding could not have been possible.

Science & Technology

One of the most important inventions of the Renaissance was the Printing Press, it was a major part of this era; in the Middle Ages books were written by hand, by monks and scholars, and therefore were few in number and very precious, very few left the monasteries where they were kept. The Printing Press lead to the creation of thousands of copies of books, containing no mistakes, and had a dramatic impact on Medicine during this time. This meant that the books containing these new ideas could be spread quickly, and would not contain any mistakes. They also were able to contain detailed drawings made by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, which helped to accompany the text and for the first time doctors had detailed, accurate drawings of the human body.

The Microscope was another very important invention which occurred during the Renaissance and would continue to be improved upon until modern times, though the writings of Seneca and Pliny the Elder mention 'magnifying glasses' as far back as the first century A.D.. In the 17th Century, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek made microscopes which were able to magnify things up to 270 times, and was able to see micro-organisms; nobody suggested however that these were the cause of disease and for hundreds of years no progress would be made upon the matter. The microscope would later be used by both Pasteur and Koch, to view micro-organisms, and to help them to make vital discoveries.

Protestant Reformation

The Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church during this time was itself due to many things, including the perception of corruption within the Church. The ideas of Galen, a Greek physician of the 2nd century AD, were enforced and adopted by the Church; Galen was a Monotheist and his ideas did not question any of the Church's, additionally his ideas had been the accepted wisdom of the medical world for over a thousand years; anyone who went against these ideas were either punished or suppressed, and that was unlikely considering that the Church controlled the teachings that went on inside the medical profession and universities. Individuals such as Vesalius (see below) found it very difficult to overcome such opposition and were forced to dissect human subjects in secret, because it was banned. However once they began investigating they found things which challenged Galen's theories on the human body, because Galen had only been able to dissect animals. In 1531 Johannes Guinter published a Latin translation of 'On Anatomical Procedures', written by Galen, in which he stressed the need to dissect human bodies, bringing to light a previously unknown approval of human dissection. This discovery would prove vital in the lifting of the ban on human dissections. Thanks to the recent invention of the printing press (see above), news of the discoveries made by invididuals such as Vesalius was impossible for the Church to stop spreading, having been severely weakened by the Reformation.


William Harvey

Main article William Harvey

William Harvey was an English medical doctor/physician, who is credited as the first person in the Western world to describe in exact detail the circulation of blood around the body. The idea that blood is re-used and carried round the body challenged Galen's theory that blood was made in the liver.

Andreas Vesalius

Main article Andreas Vesalius

Vesalius was a Flemish-born anatomist whose dissections of the human body helped to correct the misconceptions made in Ancient Times, particularly by Galen, who (for religious reasons) had been able only to study animals such as apes. Dissection of human bodies was still frowned upon in Vesalius' time (1514-64), as it had been for many hundreds of years, and Vesalius was forced to take the bodies of executed prisoners in secret. He wrote many books on anatomy from his observations, most notably 'De Humani Corporis Fabrica', which contained detailed drawings of the human body by artist Leonardo Da Vinci.
This drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci of a foetus in the womb is one of many detailed anatomical drawings by the artist which helped new doctors to understand the body

Ambroise Paré

Main article Ambroise ParéParé was a French Surgeon, anatomist and inventor of many surgical instruments. Through 1533-36 he was a military surgeon during the French campaigns in Italy. It was here that, having run out of boiling oil, which was the accepted way of treating firearm wounds, Paré turned to an ancient roman remedy of turpentine, egg yolk and oil of roses. He applied it to the wounds and found that it relieved pain and sealed the wound effectively. As well as this breakthrough Paré also introduced the ligatures of arteries (using cat guts), set up a school for midwives in Parismarker and designed artificial limbs.


This had a major impact on the medical community as it disproved Galen's theory of the four humors, something that had been previously believed for centuries.


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