17th Century Anatomical Striptease: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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Another series of most wonderful and enigmatic anatomical illustrations in the New York Academy of Medicine historical library collections are to be found in De humani corporis fabrica libri decem, tabulis XCIIX aeri incisis … exornati … Opus posthumum and Tabulae anatomicae (Venice, 1627) by Adriaan van de Spiegel (1578–1625), Giulio Cesare Casserio (1533–1616), and Daniel Bucretius (d. 1631). In this complex effort, van de Spiegel produced the text; Casserio commissioned the plates (for his own unrealized work); and the whole was published through the editorial offices of Bucretius, after both van de Spiegel and Casserio had died.

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These illustrations are described beautifully by Michael Sappol in the exhibition text for his National Library of Medicine exhibition  “Dream Anatomy” where he placed them under the header “Show-off Cadavers” and described them thusly:

The emergence of anatomical illustration in the period 1500-1750 coincided with a larger phenomenon, a new definition of personhood that was performed at court, in salons, coffeehouses, country estates, theaters, marketplaces, and at court. Inevitably anatomists took up, commented on, and played with, the contemporary obsession with self-fashioning and individuality—it was an era of manners, wit, foppishness, and coquetry. In the works of Giulio Casserio, John Browne and Pietro da Cortona, the illustrated anatomy book is a stage featuring posing, prancing cadavers. Animated with an exuberant vitality, the corpses perform an anatomical show for the reader’s gaze.

The images in this post are from the Tabulae anatomicae and show the anatomized body engaging in a sort of exuberant anatomical striptease. All images are drawn from the National Library of Medicine’s brilliant online exhibition Dream Anatomy; click on the exhibition name to see more!

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Michael Sappol will be both speaking and screening films from the National Library of Medicine as part of the October 5th NYAM Festival of Medical History & the Arts; more on that here. Hope very much to see you there!

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.

16th Century Anatomy and Pornography? De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres, Charles Estienne, 1545; Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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The first image above and those in the gallery below are illustrations from De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres [Three Books on the Dissection of the Parts of the Human Body], published by Charles Estienne in Paris in 1545. Although this book came out 2 years after Andreas Vesalius’ landmark Fabrica, Charles Estienne’s Dissection was actually completed in 1539, so it is considered a work of pre-Vesalian anatomy.

Not only are these illustrations delightfully surreal, they also have a very surprising back story, creating an unlikely link between pornography and anatomy! This is revealed in the similarity of pose between the first image, a woodcut from Estienne’s work, and the second, a slightly earlier erotic engraving.

As explained on the Christie’s auction site:

The anatomical woodcuts in De Dissectione have attracted much critical attention due to their wide variation in imagistic quality, the oddly disturbing postures of the figures in Books 2 and 3, the obvious insertion in many blocks (again, in Books 2 and 3) of separately cut pieces for the dissected portions of the anatomy, and the uncertainty surrounding the sources of the images. The presence of inserts in main blocks would suggest that these blocks were originally intended for another purpose, and in fact a link has been established between the gynecological figures in Book 3, with their frankly erotic poses, and the series of prints entitled Gli amori degli dei [The Loves of the Gods], engraved by Gian Giacomo Caraglio after drawings by Perino del Vaga and Rosso Fiorentino.

A possible explanation of this interesting connection between pornography and anatomy is that the engraver of the female nude woodcuts did not have access to a model, and for the sake of expediency copied the general outlines of the female nudes from “The Loves of the Gods,” eliminating the male figures from the erotic illustrations. Another wood engraver, perhaps [Etienne de la] Rivière, would then have prepared the anatomical insert blocks showing the internal organs.

Still another explanation might have been that in an era in which there was little graphic erotica available the author and the publishers deliberately exploited the erotic undercurrents of this anatomical work as a way of expanding the market beyond medical students. Perhaps because of the erotic undertones the book sold unusually well for a dissection manual and anatomical textbook, causing the publishers to issue an edition in French only one year later, in 1546.

All images except the second are from De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres, using the National Library of Medicine’s fantastic online resource Historical Anatomies on the Web; you can see all the images from Estienne’s book by clicking here.

The second image is by Jacopo Caraglio (engraver), after Rosso Fiorentino (artist): “Pluto and Proserpina,” 1527, from the series, The Loves of the Gods. It was exhibited in “‘An Earthly Paradise’: The Art of Living at the French Renaissance Court,” at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, January 16 – April 18, 2010, and is found on the Cornell University website.

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.

“Physica Sacra,” Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer, 1731 : Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy’s Joanna Ebenstein

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Greetings.

My name is Joanna Ebenstein; I run a blog called Morbid Anatomy as well as the related Morbid Anatomy Library—an open-to-the-public research collection in Brooklyn, New York—and the Morbid Anatomy Presents series of lecture and workshops. All of these projects aim to explore the intersections of art and medicine, death and culture, with a particular focus on historical medical collections and libraries.

In the run-up to NYAM’s October 5th Wonder Cabinet and Medical History Festival (which I am co-curating), I have been invited to write a series of guest posts in which I will report on the treasures and curiosities I find in my explorations of NYAM’s excellent rare book and historical collections. In this, the first of that series, I would like to focus one of my favorite books—and one of the most enigmatic books of all time—Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer’s 4-volume high baroque extravaganza of art, science, mysticism, and all worldly knowledge, Physica Sacra.

NYAMsacra7Originally published in 1731, this bizarre large-scale book features over 700 copper plate engravings. With a fine balance of careful observation and allegorical imagination, these depict—in frames each more fanciful than the last—such scenes as: lamenting fetal skeletons with the motto “homo ex humo” (‘man from the ground’, or ‘dust’); a variety of anatomical views of the human body projected on drapery or foregrounding mysterious landscapes; birds in biblical landscapes augmented by baffling cyphers; comparative snowflakes with the text “thesauri nivis” or “treasures of snow”; and much more.

These images serve as an excellent reminder that our views of science—and particularly the study of the human body—have changed over time. As explained by Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace in their book Spectacular Bodies:

The purpose of anatomical images during the period of the Renaissance to the 19th century had as much to do with what we would call aesthetic and theological understanding as with the narrower interests of medical illustrators as now understood . . . . They were not simply instructional diagrams for the doctor technician, but statements about the nature of human beings as made by God in the context of the created world as a whole . . . they are about the nature of life and death. . . .

I have not been able to find too much about this book in English, though my friend—and Wonder Cabinet speaker—Daniel Margócsy has promised a future lecture on the topic. In the mean time, Christie’s Auction House has a helpful entry on the book that explains that Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672–1733)—a Swiss doctor and natural scientist—”planned the Physica Sacra as an explanation of and a commentary on the Bible on natural-scientific grounds. He himself oversaw the illustrations which were largely based on his own natural history cabinet or on other famous European cabinets of rare specimens.”

Scheuchzer’s work also inspired an art exhibit at the University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth in 2007/8: “Science, Religion, Art.”  The organizers note that:

a lifelong scholar, Scheuchzer’s pursuits of knowledge were wide-ranging and diverse, from science to medicine to paleontology. Like many scientists of the late 17th and early 18th century, Scheuchzer held to the belief that the Old Testament was a factual account of the history of the earth. . . . In a period before public museums, Scheuchzer presented a seductive view of an imaginary world, viewed through lush frames depicting secondary symbols, plants, animals, heads and other objects, providing the viewer rich material for an inspired vision of the interaction between the natural and the divine powers.

Below are just a very few of my favorite images from the book, some that I photographed from the original, and others coming from the set of almost half of the 737 images from the book (!!!) so kindly provided by greyherbert’s amazing Flickr stream; you can see them all by clicking here.

Stay tuned for more posts in the days and weeks to come!

Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy
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