History of anatomy in the 19th century

A dissected body, lying prone on a table - one of the series of anatomical paintings made by the 19th Century English painter Charles Landseer.

The history of anatomy in the 19th century saw anatomists largely finalise and systematise the descriptive human anatomy of the previous century. The discipline also progressed to establish growing sources of knowledge in histology and developmental biology, not only of humans but also of animals.

Anatomical science


Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring originally published a clear, accurate and precise system in German (1791–1796), then in Latin (1794–1800). There was a second German edition in 1800–1801 and a further eight-volume edition (1841–1844) revised and with additional material by Th.L.W. Bischoff, Friedrich Gustav Jakob Henle, E.H. Huschke, Theile, G.G. Valentin, Vogel, and Rudolph Wagner. The arrangement of the edition is:

  • Vol. 1: Wagner details the life, correspondence and literary writings of Sommerring;
  • Vol. 2: Anatomy of the bones and ligaments;
  • Vol. 3: Anatomy of the muscles and the vascular system by Theile;
  • Vol. 4: microscopic anatomy of the nervous system by Valentin, including the brain, the spinal cord, and the ganglia;
  • Vol. 5: Anatomy of the organs by Huschke – this part of the work had been left incomplete by Sommerring but he had left extensive material to work on;
  • Vol. 6: An entire and complete system of general anatomy, deduced from personal observation by Henle and other careful observers, the materials being in general new, and in all instances confirmed and rectified;
  • Vol. 7: Developmental biology of mammals and humans, by Bischoff;
  • Vol. 8: Pathological anatomy of the human body, by Vogel, but only the generalities of the subject.

This was translated into French by Jourdan, and published in 1846 under the name of Encyclopedie anatomique. The eighth volume was translated into English in the year 1847.


The Anatomie Generale of Marie François Xavier Bichat is a monument of his scientific ability and scholarship. His Anatomie Descriptive is distinguished by clear and natural arrangement, precise and accurate description, and the general ingenuity with which the subject is treated. The physiological observations are in general correct, often novel, and always highly interesting. Bichat died during the preparation of the third volume and the work was completed by P.J. Roux and M.F.R. Buisson.


Henry Gray, an English anatomist and surgeon at St. George's Hospital, published Gray's Anatomy.[1] With the artist abilities and help of Henry Vandyke Carter, Gray produced an inexpensive and accessible anatomy textbook for medical students. Dissecting unclaimed bodies from workhouse and hospital mortuaries through the Anatomy Act of 1832, the two worked for 18 months on what would form the basis of the book. Their work was first published in 1858.[1][2]