Costanzo Varolio1543–1575

The base of the brain

Varolio was an anatomist in Bologna who eventually worked in Rome where he served as the personal physician to the Pope. His examination of the brain began at its base, and his illustration of the structure (in which his portrait can be discerned) clearly shows the course of the optic nerves to the optic chiasm. The illustration of the brain was printed in his book, De Nervis Opticis, published in 1573. The woodcut was made from a drawing in Varolio’s own hand. By commencing at the base of the brain, rather than from the top as was the accepted custom, he bared the cranial nerves and described the pons, also known as the bridge of Varolius. Parts of the brain are designated by numbers on the right side and letters on the left. Varolio was born and educated in Bologna, where he became professor of anatomy.