William Cowper’s Myotomia reformata: or an anatomical treatise on the muscles of the human body, Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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William Cowper (c. 1666–1709) was a British surgeon and anatomist best known today for describing “Cowper’s Gland,” part of the genito-urinary system. He has also been described by at least one scholar as “the first of the surgeon-scientists of Great Britain… the first to bring the power of the experimental method to bear on practical surgical problems… [anticipating] the celebrated Hunterian school of surgery by more than half a century.” (In the last half of the 18th century, famous London surgeon John Hunter made his reputation in part by advocating for the scientific method in medicine.)

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Cowper’s book Myotomia reformata: or an anatomical treatise on the muscles of the human body, first published in 1694 (NYAM’s copy is from 1724), is filled with grimly literal anatomical and dissection-themed initial capital letters, and charming, if somewhat rough, illustrations.

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

William Cheselden’s Memento Mori and Skeletons at Prayer: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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William Cheselden (1688–1752) is remembered today as one of the greatest English surgeons; he was surgeon to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to whom he dedicated the wonderful, epically scaled book Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones  (1733), which is described by the NYAM Library as “one of the finest of English works containing anatomic illustrations.” The copperplate images were done by Cheselden and his engravers, Gerard van der Gucht and Mr. Shinevoet, with the use of the camera obscura—a pre-photographic drawing aid; this is delightfully alluded to in this wonderful image featured on the title page (images 1 & 2) .

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The book is best known for its large scale and exquisite renderings of skeletons brandishing bones (image 3); leaning on skulls (image 4); with “the same proportions with the venus de Medicis” (image 5); “in the same proportions and attitude with the Belvidere Apollo” (image 6); or, most famously of all, “the side view of the skeleton of a very robust man” at prayer (image 7).

Less seen—yet equally delightful—are the wonderfully imaginative anatomically-themed initial capital letters (8-12); the playful chapter openers (13-19); the memento-mori themed end piece (30); and delicately exquisite animal skeletons (20-22) which fill the book. Despite—or perhaps because of—these luxurious touches, this large-scale atlas was a financial failure.

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

Jacques Gamelin’s Marauding Skeletons and Écorché Crucifixions: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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Gamelin 1

I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to pore over a book in the NYAM collection which I had long admired from afar: Jacques Gamelin‘s beautiful and lavish Nouveau recueil d’osteologie et de myologie (“New collection of osteology and mycology”) of 1779. This book, as explained to me by Arlene Shaner—acting curator and reference librarian for historical collections, at NYAM—was intended as a large scale, deluxe manual for artists interested in understanding human anatomy in order to create more convincing depictions of human figures.

The meat of the book, as it were, is a collection of extremely virtuosic anatomical renderings (12-15) showing skinned—or écorché—human figures in a variety of poses. But what is much more interesting—at least to me—is the assortment of animated skeletons which fill the opening pages; these fanciful figures are engaging in such activities as waking up in a cemetery to the trumpet of the resurrection (text reading: surgite mortui venite ad judicium, or “Rise up, come to the judgment of the dead”; image 6); brandishing anatomical drawings in what looks to be a dissection room littered with bones (3); and raping and pillaging the parties of fashionably bewigged lords and ladies (9, 10). I am also very drawn images playing on biblical themes, such as a calm Saint Bartholomew being flayed alive (an old staple of anatomical illustration; image 11), and a skinned and anatomized Christ on the cross (12) which evokes this more literal rendition, cast from a convicted murderer just a few decades after this book was published.

Interestingly, Gamelin is best remembered today not for this book, but as a painter and engraver of battle scenes, genre scenes, and portraits. He dedicated this book to his mentor, a certain Baron de Puymaurin (image 1 and 2), who had recognized Gamelin’s artistic abilities and funded his training when his father refused to do so. It is thought that Gamelin funded the book himself after inheriting a great deal of money upon his father’s death, which perhaps accounts for its delightful eccentricity.

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

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.

Identification Anthropométrique, Alphonse Bertillon, 1893; Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

Title pageAnother fascinating book from the NYAM’s holdings is French criminologist and anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon’s Identification anthropométrique; instructions signalétiques of 1893. Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) invented a criminal identification system using photography and physical measurements which allowed police to document and convict repeat criminals. His system was called signaletics or bertillonage and involved recording certain traits, such as measurements of the head and body and the shape of the ear, and converting them into a unique formula. The formula was paired with a photo of the individual and filed. The system was successful and widely used, but errors were possible, since different officers might obtain different measurements and bodies can change, and eventually fingerprints became the preferred method of identification. Bertillon also introduced the systematic use of photography to document crime scenes. The reductionism of such medicalized views of the body went on to inspire the works of the surrealists, as seen in works such as Salvador Dali’s “The Phenomenon of Ecstasy” (see last image) of 1933.

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

“Artist of Death” Frederik Ruysch at NYAM: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy’s Joanna Ebenstein

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1720 frontispiece to Opera Omnia, 1721.

My very favorite figure operating at the intersections of art and medicine–and probably the most bizarre to the modern eye–is Dutch anatomist, artist, preparator, and early museologist Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731). A pioneer in the art of preserving the human body, he was famed for his uncannily life-like and imaginative human preparations (i.e. bits of bodies preserved for study) which he achieved through a combination of injections of colored wax and a secret alcohol-based preservation formula. He is best remembered today for his lavish memento mori-themed tableaux utilizing real human fetal skeletons and other bits of human remains (see images 15-18) which are beautifully explained by Steven Jay Gould in his book Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors:

Ruysch made about a dozen tableaux, constructed of human fetal skeletons with backgrounds of other body parts, on allegorical themes of death and the transiency of life… Ruysch built the ‘geological’ landscapes of these tableaux from gallstones and kidneystones, and ‘botanical’ backgrounds from injected and hardened major veins and arteries for “trees,” and more ramified tissue of lungs and smaller vessels for ‘bushes’ and ‘grass.’

The fetal skeletons, several per tableau, were ornamented with symbols of death and short life–hands may hold mayflies (which live but a day in their adult state); skulls bemoan their fate by weeping into ‘handkerchiefs’ made of elegantly injected mesentery or brain meninges; ‘snakes’ and ‘worms,’ symbols of corruption made of intestine, wind around pelvis and rib cage.

Quotations and moral exhortations, emphasizing the brevity of life and the vanity of earthly riches, festooned the compositions. One fetal skeleton holding a string of pearls in its hand proclaims, ‘Why should I long for the things of this world?’ Another, playing a violin with a bow made of a dried artery, sings, ‘Ah fate, ah bitter fate.’

Rusych showcased his thousands of human preparations in his own cabinet of curiosities visited by medics and philosophers, as well as members of the aristocracy and royalty. Here, one could see not only his fantastic tableaux, but also his imaginative human specimens in glass jars, preserved organs, exotic birds, butterflies and plants. Ruysch published several lavishly illustrated guides to his cabinet; in image 1, above, you can see an allegorical view of his museum as depicted in a frontispiece to his Opera Omnia, 1721.

Very sadly, none of Ruysch’s astonishing tableaux are known to exist today, and are only known to us through book illustrations. One can get a sense of what the real thing probably looked like, however, in image 19, a contemporaneous 17th fetal skeleton tableau emblazoned with a memento-more-themed Virgil quote; this photo was featured in my recent exhibition The Secret Museum, on which you can find out more here. You can also still see visit many of Ruysch’s wet preparations in collections such as the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer (which has 916 of them), Museum Bleulandinum in Utrecht, and the Anatomisch Museum LUMC in Leiden.

All of these images, save the photo, are drawn from the exceptionally rich Ruysch holdings of the NYAM Historical collections. Hear more about Frederick Ruysch at the October 5th Festival of Medical History & the Arts, when Daniel Margoscy will speak on “The Anatomy of the Corpse: Ruysch, Descartes, and the Problem of Wax.”

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

Theatrum Anatomicum, by Caspar Bauhin and Theodor de Bry, 1605 : Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy’s Joanna Ebenstein

Bauhin1Here are some wonderful images from another of my favorite books in the NYAM historical collections, Theatrum Anatomicum (1605), by Caspar Bauhin and Theodor de Bry. This edition also has some especially lovely image ghosting going on.

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

Icon durae matris in concavâ superficie visae…, Jan Ladmiral and Frederik Ruysch, 1738: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy’s Joanna Ebenstein

Here is a lovely small frontispiece etching and some lush and wonderful mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, pioneer of early color printing, drawn from the NYAM copy of Icon durae matris in concavâ superficie visae, ex capite foetus humani octò circiter à conceptione mensium, desumtae; ad objectum artificiosissimè praeparatum à clarissimo viro Fred. Ruyschio by Jan Ladmiral and Frederik Ruysch from 1738.

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

Item of the Month: The Medical Museum, Mythology and Medicine

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

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Recently, while looking for something in the rare periodicals collection at NYAM, I came across a charming allegorical frontispiece that appeared in the first volume of The Medical Museum, a short-lived journal that appeared in three volumes published in London 1763 and 1764.  The editors of the journal, who described themselves as “Gentlemen of the Faculty,” remain unknown.  The subtitle and the introduction make clear that they viewed themselves primarily as the collectors and disseminators of already published works from a variety of sources. 

Even 18th century people struggled to make sense of an overwhelming amount of information.  “Many physical people very justly complain of the great expense attending the purchase of medical treatises, especially foreign ones… the pains and time to select and examine the matters that may concern their profession, are with many too much to be dispensed with,” (ix) they noted, while explaining the task they had chosen for themselves, that of serving as the selectors of the most useful materials from disciplines ranging from anatomy, medicine, chemistry, botany and other assorted sciences.  Works from a remarkable range of publications appear in the Museum, many of them translated from their original languages into English to make them more accessible, as the compilers hoped their journal would find an audience among the public, not just among medical men.

Medical Museum frontispiece 1763

The first volume contains a specially engraved frontispiece that shows Apollo bringing his son Asclepius to the centaur Chiron to learn about the art of medicine.  Coronis, Asclepius’ mother, was either killed by Apollo for being unfaithful to him or died in childbirth, and Apollo rescued the unborn baby from her womb.  Needing someone to raise the boy, Apollo handed him over to Chiron, who taught him the healing arts.  Asclepius went on to father many daughters, some of whom are also remembered for their connections to medicine and health.  One of his daughters, Hygeia, is the goddess of health, while another, Panacea, is the goddess of universal remedies.

If you visit The New York Academy of Medicine’s building, you will see that Asclepius and Hygeia were important touchstones for NYAM and for the building’s designers as well.  An ornamental frieze above our front door depicts the two of them together, attended by their snakes and dogs, a visual reminder of the classical heritage of medicine.

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