Lifestyles of the undead

One of my dissertation students turned in a nice paper on the role of graphic design in the health care industry, which was a good choice of topic. It also allowed  for a brief and compelling glimpse into the history of anatomical drawing in the 16th and 17th centuries, a genre that manages to be awesomely whimsical and morbidly realistic by turns. Some of this stuff I’d run across before (usually in the context of samples of copperplate engraving), other examples were totally new to me.

These are culled from both her dissertation and my design history lectures:

Juan Valverde de Amusco, Anatomia Del Corpo Humano. A cadaver gallantly cuts off his own skin to show us the musculature underneath. The anatomical artists of this period liked to show their subjects engaged in goofy, fanciful activities in order to demonstrate a particular angle or aspect of the body.

Andreas Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica. A great spread, in which the skeleton on the left appears to mull over human mortality while the one on the right seems to be having a full-blown weeping fit. It’s a wonder nobody has yet produced a modern satire/update of this where skeletons are shown in various poses of hipster malaise, tapping on their iPads and naming their children Atticus and Rimbaud.

My favorite from De Humani Corporis Fabrica. One annotation I found claimed that this pose references an expression that saints and Jesus were often shown in, looking upwards to heaven. Whatever. With the spade and Idaho-like surroundings, it really looks to me like an exasperated  ‘Aaaagh, fer cryin’ out loud!‘ gesture. I just love it.

Ok, that was fun. Now for some more gruesome stuff…

Again from De Humani Corporis Fabrica. This time, our lanky friend has been hanged from a rope in order to reveal his esophagus. The thing that looks like a manta ray stuck on the wall to his right? Good news: that’s his abdominal diaphragm, fully removed from his body.

Govard Bidloo, Ontleding Des Menschelyken Lichaams. Hands with disconnected flowing tendons and feet with horrible pokey things stuck through them. I guess you couldn’t properly grasp anatomy without these flourishes? Let’s hope so…

William Hunter, Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus. Whoa.

Just to end the post on a more upbeat note…

Fritz Kahn, Der Mensch als Industrieplast (Man as the Industrial Palace). Poster from 1926 visualizing the human digestive system as a chemical factory. Unlike De Humani Corporis Fabrica, this one did get an awesome modern update treatment by Fernando Vicente:

Leave a Reply