UCB Libraries


Past Exhibit

A n a t o m i e s :
Medical and Artistic Observations of the Human Body


Illustration based on the works of Vesalius
Illustration based on the works of Vesalius


From the exquisitely rendered plates of Leonardo Da Vinci's anatomical studies, to full-color photographs of surgery on the living body, this display presents documentations of anatomy, where artistic and medical interests meet. Prehistoric trepanning contrasts with modern MRIs. Historical works by such luminaries as Vesalius and Harvey are shown. The exhibit is augmented with a small collection of German World War II dental and surgical tools. All works are from the permanent collection.


We have always sought to solve the mysteries of the body. What keeps us healthy and alive? What causes illness? Through scientific observation, medical practice, anatomical study, dissection, drawing, and photographic technique, physicians and artists have come to today's understanding of physiology.


The Timetables of Medicine contrasts pre-historic trepanning -- puncturing the skull to let evil spirits free -- with the modern use of MRI technology. Sixteenth-century doctor William Harvey's medical notebook reveals his sharp observations. He uses a sometimes-surprising mixture of Latin and English to describe ailments.


Leonardo Da Vinci was one of history's most notable scientists and artists. Throughout this exhibit, you may admire his beautiful, accurate anatomical illustrations, based on several hundred dissections of cadavers. Modern pupils have also studied comparative anatomy, as in a nineteenth-century textbook on vertebrate animals.


"Anatomizing" can mean repeated observation and analysis. Many individuals, over many centuries, have advanced scientific understanding. This display celebrates the contributions of those seekers, and their spirit of curiosity. 

Ia. William Harvey. Prelectiones Anatomie Universalis. London : J.A. Churchill, 1886. QM Z1 H31 1886. Reproductions of his notebooks. Harvey lived from 1578 to 1657. 

Ib. Leonardo Da Vinci. Facsimile sketches. Corpus of the Anatomical Studies in the Collection of Her Majesty, the Queen…. New York : Johnson Reprint Company, 1978-1980. Plate 40 recto. OS2 94-8-194. 


Ic. Timetables of Medicine. New York : Black Dog & Leventhal, c2000. Special Collections Reference Oversize R133 C85 2000. 


Id. Huxley, Thomas H. A Manual of the Anatomy of Vertebrated Animals. London : J. & A. Churchill, 1871. QL805 H982. 

Surgical and dental instruments in the cases, from World War II Germany, are used courtesy of Phyllis McCusker.


Mechanisms of human reproduction were long unknown, but through dissections and observations by midwives, doctors were able to come to a better understanding of fetal development and birth.


In an instructive chapter on midwifery, an eighteenth-century Encyclopedia Britannica taught basic childbirth methods. Leonardo Da Vinci made remarkable drawings of the fetus in the fifteenth century. In recent medicine, there is greater understanding of hormones and other components of reproduction.

IIa. Encyclopaedia Britannica; or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, Vol. III. Edinburgh : Printed for A. Bell and C. Macfarquhar, 1771. AE5 E34 1771a vol. 3. [Facsimile.]

IIb. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 198 recto.


IIc. Lennart Nilsson. Behold Man: A Photographic Journey of Discovery Inside the Body. Boston : Little, Brown & Company, 1974. QP38 N6313 c.2.


IId. George F. Simmons and Morris Fishbein. The Art and Practice of Medical Writing. Chicago : American Medical Association, 1927. Epsteen Collection Textbooks.

The Role of Artists


The skill of a scientific illustrator is often overlooked. The connection between scientific knowledge and art is vital because without accomplished draftsmen, anatomical findings cannot be shared.


Artists were central to rendering discoveries in dentition (the study of teeth) in Richard Owen's important work. Rembrandt's painting The Anatomy Lesson also denotes this necessary partnership.


This cooperation works both ways: The Colour-Coded Anatomy for Artists was used by painters and sculptors to accurately portray human proportion and musculature. The author, Jean Galbert Salvage, based his drawings on dissections of bodies of soldiers "in their prime, killed in duels," rather than diseased individuals. This slightly macabre book was inspired by classical statues. Salvage positioned his anatomical studies as if the subjects were statues of the "Borghese Gladiator," the "Belvedere Apollo," the "Farnese Hercules," and so on.

IIIa. Jean Galbert Salvage. Anatomie du Gladiateur Combattant, applicable aux Beaux Arts, ou Traité des os, des muscles, de mécanisme des movements, des proportions et des charactères du Corps Humaine. Paris : The Author, 1812.

IIIb. Richard Owen. Odontography; A Treatise on the Comparative Anatomy of the Teeth. London : Hippolyte Bailliere, 1840-1845. D. K. Bailey Collection, QL 858 O97 1840 v.2.


IIIc. Catherine Wagner. Art & Science: Investigating Matter. St. Louis : Nazraeli Press, c1996. DHT 8202.

Structure Beneath the Skin


The two drawings by Da Vinci show the breadth of his scientific and artistic interests. Though his study of the internal organs is clearly medical, the study of skeleton and muscle structures would be helpful to any artist interested in accuracy.


Casualties during the American Civil War were immense. Some estimate that more than half of the war's casualties were due to disease or infection. Therefore, milestones in medicine were achieved out of necessity. Victims who once might have died of gangrene were able to return home because of advancements in surgical skill, although often at the cost of a limb.

Va. Medical curiosities are included in J. F. Malgaigne and Paré D'Ambroise's Oeuvres Complétes d'Ambroise Paré Revues et Collationnés sur Toutes les Éditions, avec les Variantes accompagnées de Notes Historiques et Critiques, et Precédées d'une Introduction sur L'origine et les Progrés de la Chirurgie… Paris : J.B. Bailliere, 1840-1841. R 128.6 P35 1840 vol. 3.

Vb. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 134 verso.


Vc. Geoffrey C. Ward. The Civil War: An Illustrated History. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. DHT 7916. Based on Ken Burns' acclaimed television mini-series.


Vd. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 36 recto.

Limits of Exploration


Jean Le Rond Dalembert and Denis Diderot's Encyclopedié, considered by some to be the most significant reference work of the Enlightenment, shows the extent of knowledge of the human head in the mid seventeen-hundreds. Muscles, nerves, glands, circulatory systems, and ocular structure are shown. Da Vinci explores comparative anatomy in his drawings of simian-clawed feet, from Windsor anatomical studies, plates 12--14.


In a bizarre twist, Stanley Burns' A Morning's Work shows a doctor performing surgery on himself, alongside a photograph of racks of cadavers.

IVa. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 33 recto.

IVb. Stanley B. Burns. A Morning's Work: Medical Photographs from the Burns Archive and Collection, 1843-1939. Santa Fe : Twin Palms, 1998. DHT 8542.


IVc. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plates 12, 13, and 14 recto.


IVd. Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Nouvelle Édition. Geneve : Pellet, 1779. AE25 E54, Plates v. 2.

Women Practiced Upon; Women as Practitioners


Leonardo drew this anatomical study from a female cadaver, a highly unusual choice within an already illegal procedure. Often left out of medical history completely, a female physician is part of the stagy Surgery Through the Ages pictorial chronicle.


Eugene Richards' 1989 book, Knife and Gun Club, chronicles "business as usual" in Denver General Hospital's emergency room. His photographs remind us why medical progress is so important: human survival.

VIa. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 122 recto.

VIb. Dan Budnik. Dan Budnik: The Medical Center Perceived. Albany : University Art Gallery, 1974. DHT 524.


VIc. Lejaren A. Hiller. Surgery Through the Ages: A Pictorial Chronicle by Lejaren A. Hiller. New York : Hasting House, c1944. DHT 1551.


VId. Eugene Richards. The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room. New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, c1989. DHT 2785.

Vesalius and Harvey


Da Vinci's accurate depiction of the chambers of the heart is rivaled by exquisite illustrations in a reprinted version of Vesalius' monumental De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Andreas Vesalius published his scientific treatise on human anatomy in 1543. He recommended that physicians perform dissections themselves, not just observe others doing so. Vesalius gathered bodies of criminals from scaffolds outside his city. His investigations inevitably brought him to the attention of the Inquisition. Vesalius' death sentence for grave robbing was commuted to a Holy Land Pilgrimage. He died in a shipwreck as he was returning.


In the work of William Harvey (1578-1657) the process of circulation was investigated. During Harvey's lifetime it was commonly believed that food was transformed into blood by the liver. Harvey proved that the circulatory system was a function of the heart and that blood constantly re-circulated through the body. His findings were controversial in his age.


World War II dental tools: can you identify the function of all of these? Brought back by an unknown soldier as souvenirs of Germany; courtesy of Phyllis McCusker.

VIIa. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 166 recto.

VIIb. [Andreas Vesalius.] Quartercentenary of the Publication of Scientific Anatomy (1543-1943), edited by Nolie Mumey. Denver : Range Press, 1944. No. 129 of 150. Signed by author. QM21 M8.


VIIc. Robert Thomas. The Modern Practice of Physic, Exhibiting the Characters, Causes, Symptoms, Prognostics, Morbid Appearances, and Improved Method of Treating the Diseases of All Climates. New York : Collins & Company, 1817. RC46 T4 1817a. An early American textbook of medicine.


VIId. William Harvey. The Anatomical Exercises of Dr. William Harvey. London : Nonesuch Press, n.d. GM 137. A beautiful fine-press edition of Harvey's De Motu Cordis and De Circulatione Sanguinis, translated into English.

New Perceptions


Leonardo learned by comparing humans with other animals. By contrast, a nineteenth century student -- whose notes appear in these textbook margins -- had the benefit of many medical resources. Previously recognized but not fully understood health problems, such as the dangers of childhood smoking, are warned against in a young person's physiology textbook from 1885.

In modern medicine, photography is a powerful tool of diagnosis and research. It also can reveal scientific wonders to others. The Sacred Heart allows non-surgeons to see the wonders of the human body exposed.

IXa. Max Aguilera-Hellweg. The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body seen Through Invasive Surgery. Boston : Little, Brown & Company, c1997. DHT 8459.

IXb. Da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, Plate 95 recto.


IXc. John Marshall. Anatomy for Artists. Illustrated by J.S. Cuthbert. London : Smith, Elder & Company, 1878. Epsteen Collection Textbooks.


IXd. Albert F. Blaisdell. Our Bodies, or, How We Live. (Physiology for the Young Series.) Boston : Lee and Shepard, 1885. Epsteen Collection Textbooks.

Building on the Past


Hippocrates wrote about diseases in the fifth century, but his ideas on patient care were reprinted and recopied for hundreds of years. Known as the "Father of Medicine," Hippocrates was born in 460 BC on the Greek island of Cos. Rather than ascribing illness to the disfavor of the gods, Hippocrates set forth to prove that all ailments could be rationally explained. Today, Hippocrates is most commonly associated with the Hippocratic Oath, a code governing the practice of physicians. The code tells physicians to lead an honorable life, practice medicine for curative purposes only, and details a patient's right to privacy.


Medical practice is not the product of any one era, but of knowledge slowly acquired and refined. Over two hundred years after he wrote them, William Harvey's circulation discoveries were again challenged in a book from 1834. In Mary Flower's 1850s hand-written Book of Remedies, she described skin salves "to cure cancer." Oh, how far we have come in medical understanding!

VIIIa. Hippocrates. Hippocratis Coi Medicorum Omnium facile principic Opera. Venetis : Ioannem Val, 1575. OVERSIZE 1 R126 H51 1575.

VIIIb. John Redman Coxe. An Inquiry into the Claims of Dr. William Harvey. Phila-delphia : E.L. Carey and A. Hart, 1834. QP 101 C87 1834a.


VIIIc. Fritz Goro. On the Nature of Things: The Scientific Photography of Fritz Goro. New York : Aperture, 1993.


VIIId. Mary Flower. Book of Remedies, circa 1850. MS 108.

Captions written by McLean Johnston.