When analyzing texts and illustrations of William Harvey, a scientific thinker critical in the progression of human understanding of anatomy, it may be easy to gloss over the detail and meaning within his illustrations. Humans of the information age have likely seen diagrams of the various organ systems and structures within the human body several times over, and are thus trained to discern any detail or significance from such depictions. However, to imagine these illustrations as a ground-breaking science is imperative to uncover the true discovery and brilliance William Harvey and other anatomists of the time.
Figure 1 displays Harvey’s understanding of the location of veins and arteries along the respective muscles. The key detail to point out is the recognition that blood not only flows to the extremities, but it also cycles back to the heart through the veins. Again, this is no revolutionary explanation to a person of the 21st century, but to Harvey’s peers, this realization was monumental in understanding the cardiovascular system.
Figure 2 further demonstrates Harvey’s detail to the cardiovascular system, visualizing the veins as if it were a branching system extending from the heart.
Finally, figure 3 displays the most detailed of Harvey’s illustrations of the heart. Although these depictions have yet to dissect and analyze the inner chambers of the heart (ventricles and atria), it does show light on Harvey’s understanding of the veins and arteries running along the heart, as well as detailed depictions of the aorta and vena cava; the largest cavities leading to and from the heart.