Alternative images: anatomical illustration and the conflict between art and science
Author: Hildebrand, Reinhard
Source: Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Volume 29, Number 3, September 2004 , pp. 295-311(17)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:From the second half of the eighteenth century, the previously given unity of art and science in the visual media began to disintegrate. The growing dominance of science as well as newly articulated demands for factual objectivity in artistic practice led to the subordinate role which artists have played in the field of anatomy ever since. However, the resulting transformation of the human image in anatomical atlases and textbooks into diagrammatic faceless figures representing repairable and utterly unmysterious electrochemical machines was not led by science alone. Equally significant in this development was the Neoclassical style, whose cool and unemotional scientific precision has been characterised as a natural historical approach to art. In order to illustrate this point, two seminal textbooks which stand as paradigms for opposing images of the human being – Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica (1543) and Bougery's Traité complet de l'anatomie de l'homme (1831–54) – are compared within a broader cultural context. Anatomical illustration today is a product of both the scientific and the Neoclassical spheres of influence, and in my conclusion I stress that our understanding of nature as well as the diagrams to which we currently reduce the human image can be called objective only in a strictly relative sense.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2004-09-01