In this exhibition the Royal College of Physicians will explore the life, work and legacy of William Harvey. Visitors will be able to see rare portraits of Harvey painted from life, as well as his demonstration rod, used in his dissection lectures, and a first edition of his seminal 1628 work De motu cordis.
William Harvey (1578–1657) was an anatomist and physician with an insatiable curiosity about the inner workings of all living creatures. Harvey lived through an extraordinary age of scientific revolution, to which he would contribute with his own discovery on the heart and blood circulation.
Throughout his life Harvey always had a desire to investigate the secrets of the natural world around him. Rather than relying on what was written in ancient textbooks, Harvey was determined to seek out the truth with his own eyes. It was this uncontrolled curiosity that led him to study the nature of the heart and discover its vital role in pumping blood around the body.
Within his London home, Harvey conducted countless experiments and observed the beating hearts of many animals, including dogs, eels, crows and even wasps. As an anatomist, he was able to dissect the bodies of hanged men, in the anatomy theatre at the Royal College of Physicians.
In 1628, after 10 years of painstaking solitary research, Harvey at last published his discovery in a book, known as De motu cordis. His idea, that blood is pumped around the body by the heart in a state of ceaseless motion, proved highly controversial to some, challenging 1,500 years of established scientific and medical belief.
Harvey encouraged his fellow physicians ‘to search and study out the secrets of nature by way of experiment’. His legacy of curiosity, research and discovery has had a lasting impact on the practice and science of medicine. This exhibition places William Harvey at the heart of the RCP as it celebrates its 500th anniversary.
The exhibition will be open from 19 January to 26 July 2018, Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm.
Opening times may vary – check the RCP visiting page for closure days before your visit.
New for 2018, the RCP museum including the 'Ceaseless motion' exhibition will be open until 8pm on the first Thursday of the month. No booking required, free museum and exhibition entry.
Exhibition team and contributors
Exhibition team: Kristin Hussey, Matthew Wood, Pamela Forde, Katie Birkwood and Natalie Craven.
Exhibition contributors: National Portrait Gallery, Royal College of Surgeons, Science Museum, British Cardiovascular Society, Worcester College, University of Oxford and Wellcome Collection.
Special thanks to: Chocolate Films, Spectrum Drama, Professor Ludmilla Jordanova and Professor Andrew Cunningham.