Although Vesalius, like his contemporaries, had only extremely limited opportunities to examine or dissect the human gravid uterus, it is the image of the anatomist laying bare the (un)pregnant female body and revealing its secrets that graces the title page of the 1543 edition of De humani corporis fabrica. This essay focuses on the implications of Vesalius’s and his followers’ anatomical discoveries for the practice and professional status of early modern Italian midwives. In particular, the essay focuses on three venues in which the authority to understand the female body and the processes of reproduction were contested. A close examination of the use of anatomy, both rhetorical and real, in the Fabrica, in male-authored midwifery manuals, and in the formal regulation of midwifery in seventeenth-century Italy reveals the ways in which authority and anatomy were contested in early modern debates over who could read and interpret the female body.

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