The King’s Anatomist: The Journey of Andreas Vesalius by Ron Blumenfeld

Publication Date: October 12, 2021
History Through Fiction LLC

Genre: Historical Fiction

A revolutionary anatomist, a memory-laden journey, and a shocking discovery.

n 1565 Brussels, the reclusive mathematician Jan van den Bossche receives shattering news that his lifelong friend, the renowned and controversial anatomist Andreas Vesalius, has died on the Greek island of Zante returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Jan decides to journey to his friend’s grave to offer his last goodbye.

Jan’s sentimental and arduous journey to Greece with his assistant Marcus is marked by shared memories, recalled letters, and inner dialogues with Andreas, all devices to shed light on Andreas’ development as a scientist, physician, and anatomist. But the journey also gradually uncovers a dark side of Andreas even as Jan yearns for the widow of Vesalius, Anne.

When Jan and Marcus finally arrive on Zante, the story takes a major twist as a disturbing mystery unfolds. Jan and Marcus are forced to take a drastic and risky measure that leads to a shocking discovery. On his return home, Jan learns that Andreas was an unknowing pawn in a standoff between King Philip of Spain, his employer, and Venice. When he arrives home in Brussels, he must finally reckon with his feelings for Anne.

A debut novel by Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist is a fascinating medical history blended eloquently with meaningful relationships and a riveting mystery. Set within a pivotal time in European history, the story carries readers through some of the most important medical discoveries while engaging them in a deeply personal story of growing older and confronting relationships. A fictional masterpiece with real and relevant historical sources, The King’s Anatomist is as enlightening as it is enjoyable.

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Fabrizio bolted from his seat. “Good God, I am late for a faculty meeting—once again. I regret I must leave you, but stay as long as you want. It was an honor.” He shook hands and hurried off, leaving us alone in the quiet classroom. Marcus ran his hands over the surface of the desk in front of him. “Do you think Andreas would have preferred Padua to imperial service?” “He never so much as said so.” Marcus patted me on the shoulder. “You stay a while. I will see to some provisions and meet you back at the inn.” “Fine—my knees could use the rest. Can you find your way out?” “As well as any student,” he said, and walked off. The door closed behind him, and his footsteps faded away. The light from the west-facing windows cast long shadows across the chairs and desks. I sat here thirty years ago while you taught. You stood on a box you kept behind the lectern! Many of your students were older than you, yet they hung on your every word. The shadows crept to the wall opposite the windows. I went to stand, but my knees objected; I would sit a few more minutes. Alone in the waning light, I was overcome with fatigue and dejection. I wanted to escape the classroom and its memories, get something to eat, and go to bed. I pushed myself to stand and started for the door, but instead I followed an impulse to go to the lectern. I managed a weary smile when I saw that Andreas’ box was gone. If you had returned, Runt, you would have needed a new box. I looked up as a floorboard creaked, I guessed from the next room. At the same time the room darkened and cooled; the sun had likely dropped below a building. I squinted into the dim light and could make out a figure seated in the last row, almost at one with the shadows. I looked away and back again; the figure remained, and I spoke. “Well, here we are once again in your classroom. Are you surprised I’ve come this far?” I waited in vain for a response, feeling his presence against my better judgement. “Your visit is timely, Andreas. You cannot deny that you disguised your unhappiness in Spain; that you used the pilgrimage to escape from Philip; that you intended to retake your chair in Padua. But why did you send Anne and Anna back to Brussels? Why didn’t you abandon the pilgrimage in Italy and reclaim the life you missed so much? Answer me.” The room was now almost dark; the apparition was silent and even less visible. I dug my fingers into the edges of the lectern. The room was now almost dark; the apparition was silent and even less visible. “Stay, Andreas! You have more to answer for. Do I beg you to forgive my blindness to the despair you hid from me, or do I rail at you for deceiving me? Does the depth of your unhappiness excuse your treatment of Anne?” My demands were met with silence. “If you won’t speak, then just listen! Antoine has been persuasive about the contradictions in friendships, and you leave me no choice but to face alone the contradictions in ours. But you have left Anne widowed and alone. I think you know that I have loved her always. I think you know that it hurt me to the quick when you took her away from me. But I must relegate that to the past. If Anne can now see me as worthy of her love, will you smile upon our union, or deem it a betrayal? Your death cannot be undone, and you should have no say in my future or hers. But you do, damn you, Andreas, even in death.” I strained to peer into the deepening shadows. “Will you not answer me?” But the apparition vanished as the classroom went dark. I stepped down gingerly from the lectern and felt my way up the aisle toward a streak of light coming through a crack in the door. As I reached the chair where the apparition sat I could make out a bulky black cloak draped over it. It was Fabrizio’s, left behind when he rushed away. I scoffed at my mind’s own trickery, but I was still shaken by the experience. I did not share it with Marcus; he would have been sure it was Andreas. And I will never be sure it wasn’t.


“A historical novel with a twist. An old friend of the most famous of all anatomists, Andreas Vesalius, sets out to solve the mystery of his death on a Greek island. What he finds involves a tangle of acquaintances going back to their Brussels childhood and earlier dissections. This lively story combines fine historical detail with a sensitive feel for past personalities.” – VIVIAN NUTTON, HON FRCP, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON

“In his imaginatively woven historical mystery, Ron Blumenfeld explores the life of the pioneering anatomist Andreas Vesalius amidst the turbulence of 16th-century Europe. Readers will enjoy a finely-tuned story infused with doses of Renaissance anatomy and art that highlight the groundbreaking achievements of Andreas Vesalius in these two linked disciplines. Blumenfeld’s erudite adventure leaves the reader with tantalizing speculations.” – PHILIP ELIASOPH, PHD, PROFESSOR OF ART HISTORY & VISUAL CULTURE, FAIRFIELD UNIVERSITY, FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT

“With The King’s Anatomist, Ron Blumenfeld has successfully crafted a story from disparate elements. Descriptions of Renaissance sciences, emerging European cities, and the pre-industrial countryside are intertwined with love gained and lost and the mystery of the death of Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy. The result is a plot of rich tapestry that leaves the reader panting for the next page, the next vignette along a journey from Brussels to the Greek Island of Zante and along another journey; that from childhood friendship to the grave. As with much fine literature, I was sorry to reach the last page.” – MAYNARD PAUL MAIDMAN, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF HISTORY, YORK UNIVERSITY, CANADA

‘Centered on the mysterious death of the great anatomist Andreas Vesalius, this enjoyable tale is anchored by scholarly literature. The device of a first-person account by an observant but hesitant “best friend” allows for vivid recreation of the many remarkable moments in the anatomist’s life. Relying solidly on social and political history, it convincingly evokes the atmosphere of sixteenth-century Europe. The surprising but plausible ending will surely encourage readers to learn more.” – JACALYN DUFFIN, MD, PHD, PROFESSOR EMERITA, HANNAH CHAIR OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE, QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, CANADA

About the Author

Ron Blumenfeld is a retired pediatrician and health care executive. Ron grew up in the Bronx, New York in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and studied at City College of New York before receiving his MD degree from the SUNY Downstate Health Sciences Center. After completing his pediatrics residency at the University of Arizona, he and his family settled in Connecticut, but Tucson remains their second home. Upon retirement, he became a columnist for his town’s newspaper, a pleasure he surrendered to concentrate on his debut novel, The King’s Anatomist (October 12, 2021). Ron’s love of books springs from his childhood years spent in an antiquarian book store in Manhattan, where his mother was the only employee. He enjoys a variety of outdoor sports and hiking. He and his wife Selina currently reside in Connecticut and are fortunate to have their son Daniel and granddaughter Gracelynn nearby.

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The King’s Anatomist