March 1, 2013

highlights from "the embroidered body"

A shot of me during my talk at the National Museum of Health & Medicine

Andreas Vesalius - cranial nerves in isolation with brain and cerebellum
Charles Estienne - dissection of the brain with removed section of the head on side table
Bartolommeo Eustachi - dissection of the head and abdomen with skull cap removed
Bernard Albinus - flayed cadaver with rhinoceros
I know, I know...this is a bit late. I had promised you a sneak peek of my lecture, and now it's more like a little recap. These things always take so much longer than you anticipate - and force you to make hard choices, like missing your friend's book launch party and not doing anything fun really for several weeks (including blogging) in order to stay focused and make the best possible presentation.

And I am thrilled to say that it was all worth it, because the talk went really well (check out the Museum's event recap on Facebook).  Despite cold and rainy weather in D.C, we had a robust turnout and the audience was very engaged, asking a lot of great questions -- and laughing at all my jokes too. It was a great opportunity for me to examine my own artistic development over the past 15 years and think about how to effectively articulate my work to a general audience. 

I also spent a good deal of time researching the history of anatomy and medical illustration from the 16th to the 19th centuries, discovering many gems along the way. As promised, here a few highlights: 

Andreas Vesalius - A Flemish anatomist who launched the"renaissance of anatomy" with the publication of his 1543 treatise, "The Fabric of the Human Body." He conducted public dissections in Padua, Italy, which was made possible by the steady supply of corpses he received fresh off the gallows. Oh - and he would make sketches while he was doing the dissections. 

Charles Estienne - A Parisian anatomist whose illustrations were considered scientifically superior to Vesalius. He is known for setting elegant scenes where men and women are lying around with their skin cut away  and their entrails hanging out. His "Dissection of the Human Body" was created before but published after Vesalius' treatise, and was overshadowed as a result.

Bartolommeo Eustachi - Considered the most exacting medical investigator of his day,  Eustachi promoted dissection as a method for identifying the cause of death  (seems obvious to us now, but was a revolutionary idea in the 16th century). Interesting fact: the bulk of his work was unpublished when he died; 38 of his copperplates were forgotten in the Vatican Library for almost 150 years, until found by the Pope's physician and finally published as "Tabulae Anatomicae." Oh - and the Eustachian tube was his discovery.

Bernard Siegfried Albinus - Published a book on the skeleton  and layers of muscle in 1747, using engravings instead of woodcuts. Instead of using a camera obscura, he devised a system where he would hang nets with square webbing between the artist and subject to avoid distortion. His book was considered "the last expression of a vision of creation shared by the arts, sciences and faith."

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