He began studying medicine, initially Pharmacology, in 1841 at the University of Freiburg and the University of Heidelberg. In 1845 he became an assistant to Louis Stromeyer in Freiburg, then moved in 1849 to the University of Tübingen, where he was a lecturer and extraordinary professor until being appointed regular Professor of Anatomy in 1855. He gained a noble title and began using von in his name in 1865.
His work particularly concerned the need for anatomy to be connected in a practical manner to medicine and surgery. His Anatomie des Menschen in Rücksicht auf das Bedürfnis der praktischen Heilkunde (1862–69; Human Anatomy in Consideration of the Needs of Practical Medicine) aimed to provide such a link. He promoted the use of anatomical information in surgery, for example to manipulate internal organs using long needles before cutting the body open, and was one of the first to conduct detailed research on normal corpses (rather than only diseased or anomalous ones), publishing a series of detailed books covering specific aspects of anatomy, such as the nerves of the hands and the blood vessels of the brain.