“Feminist Futures” Class Review

By Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

For three hours each Monday evening, January 30 through February 20, the Academy hosted a Brooklyn Institute for Social Research class called Feminist Futures, for which I was lucky enough to be the staff liaison. My classmates ran the gamut from PhD students to artists to professors to web developers to librarians and archivists. Our professor, Danya Glabau, guided us through the intellectual history of the intersection of science studies and feminist theory. Professor Glabau’s syllabus included the writings of such luminaries as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Evelyn Fox Keller, and Emily Martin. To complement these readings, the Academy was able to provide some of its own treasures as well.

One such item was the Traité d’osteologié, published in 1759 with text by the Scottish anatomist Alexander Monro and illustrations supervised by Marie Geneviève Charlotte Thiroux D’Arconville.  D’Arconville studied anatomy at the Jardin Du Roi and translated Monro’s earlier text into French for this volume. Although her name does not appear anywhere in the text (her plates were published under the protection of Jean-Jacques Sue, a member of the French Royal Academy), it is generally accepted that d’Arconville is the hand behind the gorgeous images. Among her plates are incredible depictions of male and female skeletons that display features associated with each gender. She renders the male skeleton as large and statuesque and places him in front of a backdrop of Classical architecture. Her female skeleton, on the other hand, is more petite and stands in a less assertive position. Noticeably, her rib cage is extremely narrow while her wide hips and pelvis are very emphasized. There is speculation that the image of a narrow rib cage is meant to associate the skeleton with upper class women who usually wore corsets.

monro-sue_traitedosteologie_1759_watermark

Female skeleton from Traité d’osteologié (1759)

Paired with this item for a unit titled “Feminist Objectivity” were Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Karen Barad’s “Meeting the Universe Halfway: Realism and Social Constructivism Without Contradiction,” and Michelle Murphy’s “Immodest Witnessing: The Epistemology of Vaginal Self-Examination in the U.S. Feminist Self-Help Movement.” Among other topics, we guessed at what our authors might have thought of today’s quantified-self movement and whether or not data about the self could be categorized as an extension of that self. Further, we asked: what happens to this paradigm when you engage with its exponential commodification? Could self-awareness excuse the self from the ‘wrong type’ of objectification? We also spent a significant part of the class analyzing what Haraway’s idea of “seeing from below” might mean in our current political climate.[1] We queried, is it possible to adopt Haraway’s type of situated knowledge and avoid being ableist?

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“Feminist Futures” class taking place at the Academy.Image source: Suzanne Schneider, Director of Operations and Core Faculty at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

One of my favorite quotes from this part of the course was “rational knowledge does not pretend to disengagement.”[2] I took this to mean that pushing for a type of feminist objectivity that highlights seeing from below and/or something Barad calls “agential realism” does not mean that you are disengaging from your subject.[3] Rather, it means that you are striving towards a feminist typology of embodiment that focuses its recuperative energies on welcoming emotions and relationships as data, all the while keeping in mind that “no knowledge is innocent.”[4] This was a very powerful idea to me as a woman working at the Academy in a nexus of technology, history, and public service.

We rounded out the class with a viewing of Crania America, a book published in 1889 by Samuel George Morton, a famed phrenologist. Included in his tome are illustrations of different race’s skulls along with commentary on their corresponding mental abilities. He describes his project as demonstrating that  “a particular size and form of brain is the invariable concomitant of particular dispositions and talents, and that this fact holds good in the case of nations as well as of individuals.”[5] He goes onto say that:

A knowledge of the size of the brain, and the proportions of its different parts, in the different varieties of the human race, will be the key to a correct appreciation of the differences in their natural mental endowments, on which external circumstances act only as modifying influences….[5]

As you can imagine, this item generated a passionate conversation. Highlights included discovering that the roots of cybernetics (a field which began in WWII) come from the ancient Greek adjective κυβερνητικός, meaning ‘good at steering’ (n.b. the militaristic and authoritative implications); the theory behind Chela Sandoval’s term “US third-world feminist”; and the layered irony within our assigned texts regarding authority and boundaries.

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Skull from Crania America (1889)

While this course was challenging, we made sure to keep the conversation approachable and friendly. This litmus test of a Brooklyn Institute for Social Research-The New York Academy of Medicine Library collaboration solidified our belief that:

Together [our two institutions] can make the histories, presents, and futures of science and technology relevant to the lives of work adults, supporting the development of knowledge and interest in these crucial aspects of our complex and ever-changing society. (Professor Glabau)

We hope you join us next time!

References:

[1] Haraway D. Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies. 1988; 14(3): 575-599. (Quote on p.583).
[2] Haraway D. Simians, cyborgs, and women: the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge;1991. (Quote on p. 196).
[3] Barad K. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Realism and Social Constructivism without Contradiction. Feminism, Science, and the Philosophy of Science. 1996;256: 161-194. (Quote on p.179).
[4] Warren K, Cheney J. Ecological Feminism and Ecosystem Ecology. Hypatia. 1991;6(1): 179-197. (Quote on p. 191).
[5] Morton S. Crania americana. Philadelphia: London, J. Dobson; Simpkin, Marshall & Co;1839. (Quote on p. 274).

Many Anatomy Lessons at the New York Academy of Medicine

Kriota Willberg, the author of today’s guest post, explores the intersection of body sciences with creative practice through drawing, writing, performance, and needlework. She is offering the workshop “Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy” beginning June 6 at the Academy. Register online.

Cheselden's Osteographia, 1733, opened to the title page and frontispiece.

Cheselden’s Osteographia, 1733, opened to the title page and frontispiece.

Different Disciplines, Same Body

I teach musculoskeletal anatomy to artists, dancers, and massage therapists. In my classes the students study the same raw material, and the set of skills each group acquires can be roughly organized around three distinct areas: representation of the body, kinesiology (the study of movement), and palpation (feeling the body).

As an anatomy teacher I am constantly on the prowl for images of the body that visually reinforce the information my students are learning. The Internet has become my most utilized source for visual teaching tools. It is full of anatomy virtual galleries, e-books, and apps. 3D media make it ever easier to understand muscle layering, attachment sites, fiber direction, and more.

In spite of the overwhelming volume of quality online cutting-edge anatomical imagery, I find myself drawn to historical 2D printed representations of the body and its components, once the cutting-edge educational technology of their respective centuries. Their precision, character, size, and even smell enhance my engagement with anatomical study. Many of these images emphasize the same principles as the apps replacing them centuries later.

The Essential Structure Of The Body

Different artists prefer different methods of rendering bodies in sketches. One method is to organize the body by its masses, outlining its surface to depict its bulk. Another method is to draw a stick figure, organizing body volume around inner scaffolding.

Plate XXXIII in Cheselden, Osteographia, 1733.

Plate XXXIII in Cheselden, Osteographia, 1733.

And what is a skeleton but an elaborate stick figure? William Cheselden’s Osteographia (1733) presents elegant representations of human and animal skeletons in action. These images remind us that bones are rigid and their joints are shaped to perform very specific actions. The cumulative position of the bones and joints gives the figure motion. In Cheselden’s world of skeletons, dogs and cats fight, a bird eats a fish, a man kneels in prayer, and a child holds up an adult’s humerus (upper arm bone) to give us a sense of scale while creating a rather creepy theatrical moment.

Muscle Layering

3D apps and other imaging programs facilitate the exploration of the body’s depth. One of the challenges of artists and massage therapists studying anatomy is transitioning information from the 2D image of the page into the 3D body of a sculpture or patient.

Planche 11 in Salvage, Anatomie du gladiateur combattant, 1812.

Planche 11 in Salvage, Anatomie du gladiateur combattant, 1812.

Salvage’s Anatomie du gladiateur combattant: applicable aux beaux artes… (1812) is a 2D examination of the 3D Borghese Gladiator. Salvage, an artist and military doctor, dissected cadavers and positioned them to mimic the action depicted in the statue. His highly detailed images depict muscle layering of a body in motion. The viewer can examine many layers of the anatomized body in action from multiple directions, rendered in exquisite detail. Salvage retains the outline of the body in its pose to keep the viewer oriented as he works from superficial to deeper structures.

Tab. VIII in Albinus, Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani, 1749.

Tabula VIII in Albinus, Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani, 1749 edition.

Bernhard Siegried Albinus worked with artist Jan Wandelaar to publish Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani (1749). Over their 20-year collaboration, they devised new methods for rendering the dissected body more accurately.  The finely detailed illustrations and large size of the book invite the reader to scrutinize the dissected layers of the body in all their detail. Although there is no superficial body outline, the cadaver’s consistent position helps to keep the reader oriented. On the other hand, cherubs and a rhinoceros in the backgrounds are incredibly distracting!

Fiber Direction

Familiarity with a muscle’s fiber direction can make it easier to palpate and can indicate the muscle’s line of pull (direction of action).

Figure in Berengario, Anatomia Carpi Isagoge breves, 1535.

Figure in Berengario, Anatomia Carpi Isagoge breves, 1535.

The images of Jacopo Berengario da Carpi’s Anatomia Carpi Isagoge breves, perlucide ac uberime, in anatomiam humani corporis… (1535) powerfully emphasize the fiber direction of the muscles of the waist. This picture in particular radiates the significance of our “core muscles.” Here, the external oblique muscles have been peeled away to show the lines of the internal obliques running from low lateral to high medial attachments. The continuance of this line is indicated in the central area of the abdomen. It perfectly illustrates the muscle’s direction of pull on its flattened tendon inserting at the midline of the trunk.

The Internal Body Interacting with the External World

One of the most important lessons of anatomy is that it is always with us. Gluteus maximus and quadriceps muscles climb the stairs when the elevator is broken. Trapezius burns with the effort of carrying a heavy shoulder bag. Heck, that drumstick you had for lunch was a chicken’s gastrocnemius (calf) muscle.

Tab. XII in Speigel, De humani corporis fabrica libri decem, 1627.

Tab. XII in Speigel, De humani corporis fabrica libri decem, 1627.

Anatomists from Albinus to Vesalius depict the anatomized body in a non-clinical environment. One of my favorites is Adriaan van de Spiegel and Giulio Casseri’s De humani corporis fabrica libri decem (1627). In this book, dissected cadavers are depicted out of doors and clearly having a good time. They demurely hold their skin or superficial musculature aside to reveal deeper structures. Some of them are downright flirtatious, reminding us that these anatomized bodies are and were people.

Kriota Willberg's self portrait. Courtesy of the artist.

Kriota Willberg’s self portrait. Courtesy of the artist.

I am so enamored of van de Spiegel and Casseri that I recreated page 24 of their book as a self-portrait. After my abdominal surgery, the image of this cadaver revealing his trunk musculature resonated with me. In my portrait I assume the same pose, but if you look closely you will see stitch marks tracing up my midline. I situate myself in a “field” of women performing a Pilates exercise that challenges abdominal musculature. And of course, I drew it in Photoshop.

At the Crossroads of Art and Medicine

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Our collections have always reflected the strong relationship between medicine and visual culture. Accordingly, since its creation in 2012 our blog has frequently taken up the intersection between medicine and art as subject. Below, we link below to a few posts that explore these crucial connections.

Most recently, Caitlin Dover featured The New York Academy of Medicine’s collections of illustrated medical books on the Guggenheim’s blog in “Doctors Without Borders: Exploring Connections Between Art and Medicine.” Her findings are in part the fruit of a visit with the Academy’s Historical Collections Librarian Arlene Shaner, who showed her a selection of books and ephemera from our Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, showcasing the connection between physicians and artwork.

Robert Latou Dickinson sketch of the Rare Book Room on its opening in 1933, from the Academy's Annual Report, 1933

Robert Latou Dickinson sketch of the Rare Book Room on its opening in 1933, from the Academy’s Annual Report, 1933.

Our extensive collection of anatomical atlases demonstrates the close relationships of physicians and artists, who frequently collaborated to create works both for students of medicine and of art. These atlases show both the successes and failures of collaborations between anatomists and artists who worked together to communicate new medical knowledge. For Vesalius, the collaboration was a great success. In a guest post from 2015, our 2014–2015 Helfand Research Fellow Laura Robson discusses the way Andreas Vesalius’ great milestone work of 1543, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, relies on the synergy between plates and text, and how a later work that uses the Vesalian plates suffers when the anatomist’s text is eliminated. Another guest post by New York physician Jeffrey Levine explores the visual imagery of Vesalius’ famous frontispiece of this same work. Other writers use illustration to signal authority and knowledge. A 2015 post on Walther Ryff explores the ways that Ryff’s use of the counterfeit style in his illustrations implied eye-witness discovery.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543. The most famous illustrations are the series of fourteen muscle men, progressively dissected. Some figures, such as this one, are flayed. Hanging the muscles and tendons from the body afforded greater detail, not only showing the parts, but how they fit together.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543.

Our 2014 festival Art, Anatomy and the Body: Vesalius at 500 offered ample opportunity for critical thinking about the relationship between art and the body. Guest curator and visual artist Riva Lehrer describes her personal experience of the ways the body informs identity, and how that has shaped her own work as an artist in a 2014 post. A selection of images from several of our early anatomical atlases are featured in “Brains, Brawn and Beauty,” an exhibit that accompanied the festival, and are discussed here.

Finally, two posts on skeleton imagery highlight the tradition of danse macabre imagery in anatomical illustrations. Brandy Shillace’s guest post, “Naissance Macabre: Birth, Death, and Female Anatomy” examines depictions of the female body over time. For a look at the evolution of anatomical imagery with special attention to the tradition of portraying the human skeleton in vivo, visit our blog here. You’ll find a slide show hosted by Flavorwire featuring spectacular anatomical images from our collections.

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Next month, the New York Academy of Medicine library will be undertaking an artistic project of our own. Capitalizing on the current coloring craze, we are starting a week-long special collections coloring celebration on social media, using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. We’ll share images from our collections, as will friends at other institutions. We encourage you to color them, and share your colored copies on social media. Read more about how you or your institution can participate.

CamelColored

Coloring a camel from Conrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium, Liber I, 1551.

From Master Dissector to Accomplished Author: Johann Gottlieb Walter

By Tatyana Pakhladzhyan, Rare Book Cataloger

Johann Gottlieb Walter, born on July 1, 1734, was a German physician and anatomist. He was born in Königsberg, studied medicine there, and received a medical degree at Frankfurt (Oder) in 1757. Walter continued his study in Berlin under Johann Friedrich Meckel the Elder, who appointed Walter prosector in the anatomical theater of the Medico-surgical College in 1760. After Meckel’s death in 1774, Walter became the college’s first professor of anatomy and obstetrics. He also held the chair of anatomy at Frankfurt University. Walter died in Berlin on January 4, 1818.1

The title page of Tabulae nervorum thoracis et abdominis. Click to enlarge.

The title page of Tabulae nervorum thoracis et abdominis. Click to enlarge.

In 1783, Walter’s Latin-language Tabulae nervorum thoracis et abdominis was published in Berlin. He had reputedly dissected more than 8,000 cadavers, and he maintained a collection of nearly 3,000 anatomical specimens purchased by the King of Prussia for the Anatomical Museum of the University of Berlin.2 Walter’s great skill as a dissector and his ability is well demonstrated in the illustrations of this text.

Walter dedicated this work to William Hunter, John Hunter, and Petrus Camper. William Hunter (1718–1783) was a Scottish anatomist and physician. He was a leading teacher of anatomy, who guided and trained his more famous brother, John (1728-1793), one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. The Hunterian Society, founded in 1819, was named in John’s honor, and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England preserves his name and his collection of anatomical specimens. Petrus Camper (1722–1789) was a Dutch physician and anatomist interested in comparative anatomy and paleontology; he also invented the measure of the facial angle. Camper was also a sculptor and a patron of art.

This book contains four numbered plates depicting the nervous system of the thorax and abdomen, each accompanied by an outline drawing. All plates are signed by “I.B.G. Hoppfer, ad nat. delin” and “I.H. Meil, sculp.” “Ad nat. delin” indicates that Hoppfer drew from nature, while “sculp.,” or sculptor, would today mean “engraver.” Plates I-II are dated 1777; plates III- IV were completed in 1778.

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An English-language translation of Walters’s Tabulae was published in 1804, entitled Plates of the Thoracic and Abdominal Nerves, reduced from the original as published by order of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin. The NYAM library owns this English translation as well.

The 2014 New York State Discretionary Grant for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials funded the conservation and rehousing of 24 oversize 19th-century German illustrated medical atlases, including Johannis Gottlieb Walter Tabulae nervorum thoracis et abdominis. Although all of the atlas volumes were represented in the library’s card catalog, they had not been entered into NYAM’s online catalog prior to the grant’s completion.

References

1. Julius Pagel: Walter, Johann Gottlieb. In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Band 41, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1896, p. 26.

2. Bibliographic note in NYAM’s copy of Tabulae nervorum thoracis et abdominis.

Reflections on “Art, Anatomy and the Body: Vesalius 500”

Our “Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500″ festival guest curator, artist and anatomist Riva Lehrer, reflects on the event.

Riva Lehrer, left, with Lisa O'Sullivan, director of the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. Photo by Charles Manley.

Riva Lehrer, left, with Lisa O’Sullivan, director of the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. Photo by Charles Manley.

My approach as co-curator of “Art, Anatomy and the Body: Vesalius 500” was to ask how we use anatomy today to understand what it means to be human. Throughout history, we’ve used metaphor to organize our concepts of the body. We’ve imagined it as a vessel full of roiling humors, as an elaborate clock, as a regulated factory, as a robot and a computer, to name just a few. Even anatomical study is affected by metaphor and symbolism, and often guides what we see.

As science creates new perspectives on human (and non-human) anatomy, society responds by re-imagining new possibilities. When we internalize these visions we live differently in our bodies. “Art, Anatomy and the Body: Vesalius 500” brought together artists, writers, and scholars to discuss about how we see ourselves now and how we construct ourselves as public bodies.

As emcee, I had the pleasure of introducing Ann Fox, Sandie Yi, Dan Garrison, Sander Gilman, Nuha Nazy, Dima Elissa, Bill Hayes, Steven Assael and Alice Dreger, who were among the more than 25 festival participants.

Chun-Shan “Sandie” Yi. Photo by Charles Manley

Chun-Shan “Sandie” Yi. Photo by Charles Manley

Curator Ann Fox and artist Chun-Shan “Sandie” Yi started the day with an overview of contemporary artists who explore identity through medical and anatomical imagery, including artists who tackle our continuing discomfort with HIV/AIDS, a disease that from the very first raised issues of identity and ostracism. Sander Gilman furthered our thoughts about unacceptable bodies by discussing how teaching posture in schools has been used to control and regulate bodies, and make them socially predictable.

Dan Garrison brought us back to the core of the festival via the origin of Vesalius’ Fabrica. He posited some very intriguing ideas around who Vesalius may have been; he may have had a variant body (possibly dwarfism), and this may have contributed to how he created his great work.

Dan Garrison. Photo by Charles Manley.

Dan Garrison. Photo by Charles Manley.

Identity is always a struggle between the specifics of individuality and alliance with group affiliation. This echoes the direction of modern medicine; treatments are becoming increasingly targeted to individual bodies, whether through genetics, prosthetics, or adapted drug regimens. We glimpsed this future during the ProofX presentation, with Nuha Nazy and Dima Elissa. ProofX uses 3D printing to produce extremely precise implants, surgical models, and adaptive devices for a wide range of conditions. It’s anatomical interface at an unprecedented level.

ProofX's 3D-printing demonstration.

ProofX’s 3D-printing demonstration. Photo by Charles Manley.

Bill Hayes engages medical history in order to understand his own biography. His research blends with memoir and hands-on experience, as witnessed by The Anatomist, the remarkable story of Henry Gray, author of Gray’s Anatomy. Hayes steps across the boundary between modern identity and historical precedent, here discussing the history of exercise, in order to show us how we arrived at our present state.

Anatomy and poetics also wove together in the work of Steven Assael. His paintings and drawings are highly (and gracefully) accurate, yet manage to be astute and nuanced examinations of his subjects’ personalities. He transfixed the audience by the lushness of his technique and the drama of his compositions.

Alice Dreger. Photo by Charles Manley.

Alice Dreger. Photo by Charles Manley.

Our excellent final event was a talk by bioethicist Alice Dreger. She traced the origins of contemporary medical photography as well as taking a fresh look at traditional anatomical illustration. Dreger has thought deeply about how we signal our identity through bodily choice. She raised questions about what caused doctors to lose touch with the vulnerability of people in medical settings, and to describe variant bodies in dehumanizing ways. She also pointed out that doctors often can’t admit the taboo pleasure of viewing physical anomalies, and how that covert pleasure affects their relationships with patients.

The human body has its secret, unspoken existence and its public presentation, meant to be decoded by other human beings. Anatomy would seem to be an objective bridge between the two, yet can be just as complicated and interpretive as any form of art. Our festival let us perceive the dialogue between poetics and science, and between inner and outer realities of the body.

For more images of the festival, visit our Facebook page.
Read a summary of the festival by presenter Kriota Willberg: Part 1 and Part 2
Click here for a blog from Hyperallergic.
Read “Seeing is Believing: New York Academy of Medicine’s Vesalius 500th Year Celebrations,” an article by presenter Brandy Schillace, PhD.

The Talented Dr. Knox

Lisa Rosner, PhD, author of today’s guest blog, will present “The True and Horrid Story of the Burke and Hare Anatomy Murders” at our October 18th festival, Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500.

Engraving of Dr. Robert Knox. From our online collection The Resurrectionists.

Engraving of Dr. Robert Knox. From our online collection The Resurrectionists.

Dr. Robert Knox, the anatomist whose cadaver purchases kept William Burke and William Hare in the murder business, has always been an enigma. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he served in the army and studied in Paris before returning home to set up a private anatomical school. He taught hundreds of students, lecturing twice a day in addition to holding separate dissection classes. He was curator of the surgical museum, wrote articles on human and comparative anatomy for scientific societies, and was in the process of seeing several books on anatomy through publication. His supporters claimed he knew nothing about the murders; his detractors argued that he simply turned his blind eye—for he had lost an eye to smallpox as a child.

Plate II in Knox's Man: His Structure and Physiology, shown flat and with lifted parts. Click to enlarge.

Plate II in Knox’s Man: His Structure and Physiology, shown flat and with lifted parts. Click to enlarge.

What we can see, using the extensive collection of Robert Knox materials in the New York Academy of Medicine Library, is just how talented an anatomist Robert Knox was. His edition of Hippolyte Cloquet’s A System of Anatomy is more than just a translation: it is instead a critical analysis of contemporary anatomical knowledge, enriched by examples from Knox’s own research and teaching. The same is true of his edition of Friedrich Tiedemann’s The Plates of the Human Arteries, prepared with two of his students, Thomas Wharton Jones and Edward Mitchell. The catalogue he prepared for the anatomical and pathological museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is filled with his detailed insights: on anomalies of the biceps flexor cubiti, on the precise position relative of a fatal brain tumor, and on popliteal aneurism. Knox discussed the implications of these, and many more of his anatomical and surgical observations, in several series of articles for the London Medical Gazette. We can follow his teaching methods in The Edinburgh Dissector, the handbook he wrote for the use of his dissecting classes. “Nobody could ever say that he gave a dry lecture, or one that was not specially instructive,” reported his former student, Henry Lonsdale. Even in the midst of the detailed description that makes up most of the Edinburgh Dissector, Knox’s love of his subject shines through, as in his description of the bones of the foot, which “when well formed yields in beauty and perfection to no part in the human body.”

Could such a passionate observer of all subjects anatomical really have missed the fact that sixteen of his own “subjects” had been murdered? Contemporaries from Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel (founder of the London Metropolitan Police) to the Edinburgh evening papers refused to believe it and called for wider investigation. On the advice of legal counsel, Knox refused to answer any questions—just as he had refused to ask any, his professional rivals muttered darkly, when presented with Burke’s and Hare’s murder victims. There was no real case against him, and there are no records of any deliberations by the prosecuting attorneys. We will probably never know what Knox knew or when he knew it.

"Execution of the notorious William Burke the murderer, who supplied Dr. Knox with subjects." Engraved print in The Resurrectionists collection. Click to enlarge.

“Execution of the notorious William Burke the murderer, who supplied Dr. Knox with subjects.” Engraved print in The Resurrectionists collection. Click to enlarge.

The anatomical career of the talented Dr. Knox survived the Burke and Hare scandal, but it did not long survive the change in medical teaching and practices that followed it. He had a second career as a public teacher and lecturer: his books A Manual of Artistic Anatomy and Great Artists and Great Anatomists: A Biographical and Philosophical Study sold very well. But he never achieved the academic position he had striven for, and his research agenda, like his sixteen most famous subjects, died at the hands of Burke and Hare.

For more on Robert Knox and the Burke and Hare murders, visit our online collection, The Resurrectionists.

Registration Open for Vesalius 500 Workshops

Registration is now open for our hands-on art and anatomy workshops, presented as part of our Vesalius 500 celebrations on October 18, 2014. Create your own articulated anatomical figure or “exquisite corpse” at the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory; learn Renaissance drawing techniques with medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer; or explore the anatomy and art of the hand with physical anthropologist Sam Dunlap.

Spaces are strictly limited so register soon. Registration at one of the workshops includes free entry to the Festival. You can register for the Festival (without workshop attendance) here.

From the Cradle to the Grave: Session One: The Cradle

Moveable baby and female pelvis from one of NYAM’s 19th century obstetrics texts, Dr. K. Shibata's Geburtschülfliche Taschen-Phantom, or the Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom.

Moveable baby and female pelvis from one of NYAM’s 19th century obstetrics texts, Dr. K. Shibata’s Geburtschülfliche Taschen-Phantom (Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom).

Working with NYAM’s conservation team, celebrate Vesalius’s life with a hands-on workshop producing your own articulated anatomical figures in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

Time: 11am-1pm
Cost: $55
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 12
Register here

During the morning’s Cradle workshop, we will construct paper facsimiles of a moveable baby and female pelvis from one of NYAM’s 19th century obstetrics texts, Geburtschülfliche Taschen-Phantom (or the Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom). The book was written by Dr. K. Shibata, a Japanese author studying in Germany, and was published first in German before being translated into English and Japanese.

Participants will have time to make at least one paper baby and pelvis, which can be produced as paper dolls or magnets.

From the Cradle to the Grave: Session Two: The Grave

An exquisite corpse made by staff of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

An exquisite corpse made by staff of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

Working with our conservation team, celebrate Vesalius’s life with a hands-on workshop producing your own “exquisite corpse” in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

Time: 2:30pm-4:30pm
Cost: $55
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 12
Register here

During the afternoon’s Grave workshop, we focus on producing a Vesalian-themed exquisite (or rotating) corpse. Loosely based on the surrealist parlor game in which a picture was collectively created by assembling unrelated images, this workshop will employ a special, rotating binding structure and mix-matched facsimile images from NYAM’s rare book collections to allow students to create their own unique, moveable pieces of art.

Renaissance Illustration Techniques Workshop with Marie Dauenheimer, Medical Illustrator

Students at medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer's workshop at last fall's Festival.

Students at medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer’s workshop at last fall’s Festival.

Time: 10am-1pm
Cost: $85
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 15
Register here

Artists and anatomists passionate about unlocking the mysteries of the human body drove anatomical investigation during the Renaissance. Anatomical illustrations of startling power vividly described and represented the inner workings of the human form. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks were among the most magnificent, merging scientific investigation and beautifully observed drawing.

Students will have the opportunity to learn and apply the techniques used by Renaissance artists to illustrate anatomical specimens. Using dip and technical pens, various inks and prepared paper students will investigate, discover, and draw osteology, models, and dissected specimens from various views creating an anatomical plate.

Understanding the Hand, physical anthropology workshop with Sam Dunlap, Ph.D.

Dr Sam Dunlop leading a workshop at last year's Festival.

Dr Sam Dunlop leading a workshop at last year’s Festival.

Time: 2:30pm-5:30pm
Cost: $75
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 15
Register here

The hand as an expression of the mind and personality is second only to the face in the Renaissance tradition of dissection and illustration that continues to inform both art and science. Basic anatomical dissection, illustration, and knowledge continue to be fundamental in many fields from evolutionary biology to surgery, medical training, and forensic science. This workshop will offer participants the opportunity to explore the human hand and its anatomy, which will be demonstrated with at least three dissections.  Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) and orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) forelimbs will be available along with other comparative skeletal material. We will discuss hand evolution, embryology, and anatomy, and the artistic importance of the hand since its appearance in the upper palaeolithic cave art. We will also analyze the hand illustrations of da Vinci, Vesalius, Rembrandt, and artists up to and including the abstract expressionists.

The Fabrica of Andreas Vesalius: Object of the Month

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

This year we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andreas Vesalius with our fall festival, “Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500” on October 18. So much has been written on the Fabrica and its importance that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Why do Vesalius and his work remain so important to contemporary scholarship and anatomical study? The answer lies in his first and most famous book, De humani corporis fabrica. The title is translated as On the Fabric of the Human Body, although the “fabrica” in the original title can be best understood in terms of “craft”, “workings,” or “fabrication.”1 In other words, in this book Vesalius is interested in the functions of the body as a living system. Seven “books,” or sections, lay out the different systems and functions of the body, beginning with bones and ligaments and ending with the brain and sensory organs.

The frontispiece to the 1543 Fabrica in our collection.

The frontispiece to the 1543 Fabrica in our collection. Click to enlarge.

As the frontispiece makes clear, Vesalius wanted the Fabrica to demonstrate the importance of reviving hands-on anatomy as central to medical knowledge and practice. The Fabrica was a landmark publication, representing a turning point in the European understanding of the body and a new level of beauty and accuracy in its depiction in anatomical texts. At the time of its publication in 1543, Vesalius was a professor at the University of Padua, one of Europe’s best known medical schools. Only 28, Vesalius came from a long line of physicians. Like many of his forebears, he subsequently entered the service of the Imperial Court of Charles V, to whom he dedicated the Fabrica. He worked closely with his printers, wood carvers, and artists to ensure the accuracy and beauty of the over 300 woodblock images in the book.2 The Fabrica was exceptional in terms of both production and content, and its iconography, principles, and pedagogical approach were rapidly incorporated into medical thinking and teaching.

While the Fabrica is now remembered as the point at which a new, “modern” emphasis on direct observation and experimentation replaced deference to ancient authorities, Vesalius was careful to ensure that his erudition in the classical tradition was on display. Quotations of Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew texts point both to his determination to show the breadth of his knowledge and to the expertise of his typesetters. Vesalius used such authorities to place himself in an established tradition, even as he questioned aspects of accepted Galenic thought.

The frontispiece to the 1555 Fabrica in our collection. Click to enlarge.

The frontispiece to the 1555 Fabrica in our collection. Click to enlarge.

Along with his systematic exploration of all aspects of human anatomy, Vesalius’s demonstration that authorities such as Galen had made errors in their claims about human anatomy (in part due to reliance on animal dissection) was one reason the book rapidly assumed such extraordinary significance (although not universal acceptance). Despite its detractors, the Fabrica had an immediate impact; even with Vesalius’ best efforts, it was plagiarized and copied throughout Europe.3

Covers of the two Fabricas in our collection. The 1543 volume, left, has alum-tawed pigskin over wooden boards with elaborate decorative tooling and stamped designs and two brass fore-edge clasps. The 1555 edition, right, is bound in a contemporary parchment binding over stiff pasteboards with a single panel stamp. Click to enlarge.

Covers of two Fabricas in our collection. The 1543 volume, left, has alum-tawed pigskin over wooden boards with elaborate decorative tooling and stamped designs and two brass fore-edge clasps. The 1555 edition, right, is bound in a contemporary parchment binding over stiff pasteboards with a single panel stamp. Click to enlarge.

We are in the enviable position of owning multiple copies of the Fabrica as well as its companion piece the Epitome, a briefer volume designed for students with enlarged illustrations to aid the identification of individual features. In addition, we also hold multiple copies of the Icones Anatomicae, an extraordinary 20th-century artifact created in 1934 by The New York Academy of Medicine and the University of Munich, using the original 1543 wood blocks to reproduce illustrations from the Fabrica and Epitome (this was the last time images were taken from the woodblocks; returned to Munich, they were subsequently destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII). All of these volumes will be available to view at the festival on October 18. You will also be able to learn more about Vesalius and his work: Daniel Garrison will discuss translating the Fabrica for the new English-language edition, Arlene Shaner will explore the story of the Icones Anatomicae, and Drs. Jeff Levine and Michael Nevins will provide a guide to the possible stories hidden in the changes made to the Fabrica frontispiece between the first and second editions.

References

1. Harvey Cushing, A Bio-Bibliography of Andreas Vesalius (New York, Schuman’s, 1943), p73; Daniel Garrison, “Why Did Vesalius Title His Anatomical Atlas “The Fabric of the Human Body”?” http://www.vesaliusfabrica.com/en/original-fabrica/inside-the-fabrica/the-name-fabrica.html

2. The identity of the artist responsible for the wood blocks remains unclear, although many have argued that Jan Stephan Calcar, a student of Titian, was responsible. See Vivian Nutton’s introduction at http://vesalius.northwestern.edu/.

3. More details about the life and impact of Vesalius can be found online in Vivian Nutton’s introduction and other essays at Northwestern’s Annotated Vesalius project: http://vesalius.northwestern.edu/ and in C. O’Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964).

Virtual Dissection

Kriota Willberg, the author of today’s guest post, explores the intersection of body sciences with creative practice through drawing, writing, performance, and needlework. She will present at our October 18th festival, Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500.

Artistic and clinical examinations of the body share many of the same processes. The artist and the clinician study the body’s mass, look for irregularities in its shape and color, locate bones, joints, and muscles, take notice of the breath. They watch the body and its parts move through space, assess joint alignment, and determine if their subject’s physical parts and relationships are assembled or functioning in a desirable form. The languages for and techniques of analysis vary by discipline but the object of exploration is the same.

"Dhanurasana illustration" by Kriota Willberg

“Dhanurasana illustration” by Kriota Willberg. Click to enlarge.

My careers are grounded in the exploration of the body. There was a time when I would take a morning ballet class, teach anatomy in the afternoon, and in the evening either work a shift as a massage therapist or go to a dance rehearsal. To relax on the weekends I would draw musculoskeletal anatomy illustrations for my class handouts.

Drawing, dancing, and massage all require skills in postural assessment. As a massage therapist I also palpate deeper structures, locating them under skin, fat, and other layers of muscle. As a dancer I learned to feel my musculoskeletal structures via movement exercises that isolate muscle groups or coordinate the body as a whole. Through years of building experiential and objective understanding of the body, physical assessment has become second nature to me.

Friction “…Bundle of Fibers” by Kriota Willberg.

“Friction” by Kriota Willberg. Click to enlarge.

Anatomy entertains and delights me everywhere I go. I study the foot and ankle alignment of strangers as they climb the subway steps. I monitor my two amputee cats for the development of functional scoliosis. I measure and palpate the skin and adipose of my husband, or myself, or the cats, as we sit on the couch and watch the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. I comment on Pierce Brosnan’s resemblance in the film to a dissected human subject illustrated in an Albinus anatomy text from 1749.

Tomorrow Never Dies from “The Anatomy of 007” by Kriota Willberg. Click to enlarge

Tomorrow Never Dies from “The Anatomy of 007” by Kriota Willberg. Click to enlarge

The world is an anatomical wonderland. Anatomy is all around us and all we have to do is see it and feel it.

"Pictorial Anatomy of the Cute" by Kriota Willberg. Click to enlarge.

“Pictorial Anatomy of the Cute” by Kriota Willberg. Click to enlarge.

I’m not unique in my perspective of the world of anatomy. There are many people in arts, sciences, and health professions who are skilled at virtual dissection. We can look at you, through your clothing, and through your skin and fat to see the muscle and bone beneath. We share the same skills and sometimes we share the same sense of humor. But our cohort is somewhat rarified. I intend to bring more people into the knowledge and skills that will enable them to join our “club.”

I train others in methods of seeing the body as a clinical or artistic tool. As a part of this instruction, I draw the body on a body. Using a live model, I locate bones and joints, tracing bony landmarks in rinseable ink. Then I locate a muscle’s attachment sites, connect them, and “flesh out” the muscle’s contours and fiber direction.

Willberg anatomy drawing. Model: Wendy Chu

Willberg anatomy drawing. Model: Wendy Chu

Willberg anatomy drawing. Model: Wendy Chu

Willberg anatomy drawing. Model: Wendy Chu

We watch levator scapula lengthen with upward rotation of the scapula. Or the hamstring elongate to seemingly impossible length as the model moves through deep hip flexion. The upper pectoralis major shortens as the lower part lengthens when the model brings her arms overhead. After 27 years of teaching, I am still entranced by these simple movements.

At the Vesalius 500 celebration on October 18, we will look at the body with the double vision of the anatomist. Part live-drawing performance, part slide show/lecture, part conversation, we will explore the (kin)esthetic relationships of our anatomy. I’ll present a narrated slideshow of artworks from A(lbinus) to V(esalius) to enhance and define actual and fanciful relationships of our parts to our whole. A live model and I will create associations between these illustrations and the living body by tracing superficial and deep connections of muscle to movement. The presentation will include opportunities for you (the audience) to ask questions and comment on your own experiences with the study of anatomy.

See you there!

Naissance Macabre: Birth, Death, and Female Anatomy

Brandy Schillace, PhD, the author of today’s guest post, is the research associate and guest curator for the Dittrick Museum of Medical History. She will speak at our October 18th festival, Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500.

The dance of death: Death emerges from the ground and is greeted by a group of allegorical women, symbolizing the vices. Woodcut after Alfred Rethel, 1848. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

The dance of death: Death emerges from the ground and is greeted by a group of allegorical women, symbolizing the vices. Woodcut after Alfred Rethel, 1848. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Click to enlarge.

The danse macabre, or dance of death, features whirling skeletons and other personifications of death stalking the living. These images appeared regularly in the medieval period, particularly after outbreaks of bubonic plague. One of the salient features was death and life pictured together, frequently in the form of a young and beautiful woman. The juxtaposition symbolized how fleeting life could be, and served as a warning against vice and vanity. While death and the maiden might remind viewers of their own mortality, another set of images became far more instructive to the preservation of life: death and the mother—the anatomy of the pregnant womb.

From Jacob Reuff’s The Expert Midwife. Image courtesy of the Dittrick Museum.

From Jacob Reuff’s The Expert Midwife. Image courtesy of the Dittrick Museum.

The 1500s saw the proliferation of full-figure anatomy. Jacob Reuff’s The Expert Midwife (and other texts like it) displayed women with their torsos peeled back, daintily displaying their inner organs. Plenty of scholarship has focused on the near-wanton and sexualized poses of these and of the “wax Venus” figures, some of whom appear to be in raptures despite being disemboweled. Male figures also appeared in full and sometimes opened—many of Vesalius’ plates in On the Fabric of the Human Body provide these interior views. The male gaze is often directed at the viewer or at the anatomy, while female figures tend to look askance (perhaps with modesty or shame at the revelation of their innards). By the 18th century, however, the whole had been replaced by sectioned and partial anatomies. No longer were the figures walking, dancing, or—in the case of women—curtseying. Instead, only the relevant bits appear in the pages of the atlas, which meant (in pregnant women) only the womb.

Easily the most famous works on pregnant anatomy in the 18th century, William Smellie’s A Sett of Anatomical Tables and William Hunter’s Gravid Uterus provide a portal for viewing key developments in the practice of 18th-century midwifery. In Tables, Smellie set out to demonstrate technique, but, as historian Lucy Inglis explained in a recent talk at the Dittrick Museum, Hunter was more interested in ensuring his fame by making scientific discoveries on the causes of maternal death in childbirth. In fact, the title Gravid Uterus suggests just how primary the womb had become; the women to whom they belonged are depicted headless, limbless, with bloodied cross-sections of stumped legs.

From Hunter’s Gravid Uterus. Image courtesy of the Dittrick Museum.

From Hunter’s Gravid Uterus. Image courtesy of the Dittrick Museum. Click to enlarge.

Neither anatomist provided entire forms—there was no expectation that they should. But Smellie’s models often included sheets of cloth to hide, but also to suggest, extremities. There is some debate about whether Hunter deliberately tried to achieve artistic or visceral impact,1 but unlike the birthing sheet, which hid the woman’s body from the midwife, the atlas rendered the female form more than denuded: It was naked of flesh, severed in places, the internal matter laid open for observation. At the same time, these female anatomies, like silent muses, were invaluable to the practice of midwifery, particularly as it pertained to difficult and dangerous cases. So what was gained—or lost—by these piecemeal renderings?

In February 2013, I worked with Lucy Inglis on a temporary gallery at the Dittrick that showcased both atlases, not for the sake of their authors, but to exhibit the work of the artist. Jan Van Rymsdyk—the artist behind the majority of figures in both atlases—had a “forensic eye.” He attended when Hunter obtained a new corpse and sketched as the dissections took place. Once, he watched a stillborn baby, more suited to the illustration, substituted within a dead woman’s womb. Lucy and I pondered the ramifications of this, the strange artificial quality of these posed cadavers. Enlightenment ideals required strict adherence to evidence, to the “real.” And yet, even here, anatomies were constructed by doctor and artist, a “dance” that renders plain the problems and process of birth at the moment of death.

In Dream Anatomy, historian Michael Sappol suggests that mastery over the dead body was akin to mastery over oneself, and even a kind of mastery over death.2 He notes, too, the attempts of early anatomy texts to shock the reader, and even the pleasure of shock; the sense that anatomists and anatomy artists wielded an erotic power in undressing the body.2 The detachment necessary to the task (and feared by a public concerned that dissection rendered doctors inhuman) cannot be universally applied to all, however. Van Rymsdyk suffered something akin to a breakdown from the hours spent hovering over dead women and their children with his palette of chalks—and Smellie turned his anatomical information into instruction for saving the lives of women and children. Even so, in the naissance macabre, artist and author reduce female anatomy to constituent parts: woman becomes womb, objectified as teaching tool…a mute muse, but a muse none the less.

References

1. McCulloch, N.A., D. Russell, S.W. McDonald. “William Hunter’s casts of the gravid uterus at the University of Glasgow.” Clinical Anatomy 14, no. 3 (2001): 210-217.

2. Sappol, M. (2006). Dream Anatomy. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 34.