The medical Renaissance of the 16th and 17th centuries

The Renaissance led to renewed interest in the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose medical books could now be spread easily with the invention of the mechanical printing press from 1440 onwards.

The voyages of discovery of Christopher Columbus from 1492 brought new plants for herbal remedies as well as tobacco. Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, studied the human body closely to replicate it in art which helped further medical knowledge.

However, these ideas also encouraged people to think for themselves and soon they began to challenge old ideas, eg the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen.

  • Doctors such as Andreas Vesalius and William Harvey began to experiment and to develop new ideas about anatomy and the circulation of blood.
  • The invention of printing meant that medical textbooks, with accurate sketches of the human body, could now be produced more cheaply and this helped ideas to spread rapidly.
  • New weapons, eg gunpowder forced battlefield doctors to think about new ways to treat wounds.

There were a few individuals who made important contributions to medical knowledge during the 16th and 17th centuries.