Dream Anatomy

I am sure that Peacay must have mentioned this site at BibliOdyssey, but I only just discovered this online exhibition at the U.S. National Library of Medicine: Dream Anatomy. The site contains an introduction to anatomical science and art, with information on printing techniques, the cultural-historical context of the works, as well pieces on individual authors of anatomical works. It also has a wealth of beautiful images. I am always fascinated by the interaction between the medical discourse and the conventions of art in early modern anatomical images. The dissected bodies are often placed on a pedestal, and figure in aesthetically pleasing surroundings, often with crumbling ruins of ancient buildings in the background. The female figure in the middle even coyly holds up her skin for the viewer, in a posture that reminds of nude paintings. The image on the left features a classical building with an astronomer peering out on a parapet. Here, the National Library of Medicine provides a pragmatic explanation for the fascinating surroundings of the woman: To cut costs, Charles Estienne took some of his illustrations from non-anatomical books, replacing a section of the woodblock with an insert that depicted the body’s interior… I am unsure whether the term “body” applies, though, because the other thing about these images is that these bodies are all very much alive, and sometimes even engaged in their own dissection – the man on the right is still holding the knife with which he flayed his own skin.

See also Historical anatomies on the web, a digital project designed to give online access to high quality images from important anatomical atlases in the National Library’s collection.


One thought on “Dream Anatomy

  1. Am I that predictable? Heh.

    Welllllll, as a matter of fact, I put together a whole bunch of links relating to anatomy here and found a medical frontpieces site a few weeks ago.

    Maybe I did myself out of many, many more posts although of course I can return there I suppose. The Dream Anatomy website is fantastic – one of the best things online.

    I love the infusion of the ‘artistic license’ that you mention into these old images. A product of their time. The body as ‘high art’?

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