Home Historical art Galleries: a new exhibition explores the intimate relationship between art and anatomy

Galleries: a new exhibition explores the intimate relationship between art and anatomy


It’s always good to have a bit of intellectual nourishment among the pies during the holiday season, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend mixing the two. Notably with this fascinating exhibit at Surgeons’ Hall which would almost certainly allow you to retrace the journey of any fictional pie through the esophagus and beyond – and in somewhat spooky detail. “A Model Education” is a temporary exhibition in the galleries of the Surgeon’s Hall Museum retracing the influence of art on the teaching of anatomy.

It has its roots in the Surgeons’ Hall collections, which date back to its inception around 500 years ago. Illustrated 16th-century anatomical atlases are featured here alongside models made over the following centuries from wax, plaster of Paris, and even papier-mâché, which, despite what his own attempts in the classroom would have could suggest, allows a deeply detailed reproduction.

There is even a somewhat unusual wooden kidney. The exhibit was designed by curator Louise Wilkie, who researched the historical aspect of the art of anatomical illustration, scouring the archives of many institutions for the exhibit. There are works on loan here, sort of a first for the museum, from Hunterian in Glasgow, The Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh, the Gordon Museum of Pathology at Kings College London, the Whipple Museum of the History of Science at University of Cambridge and University of Aberdeen.

Each collection contains specialized materials that tell the story of a practical but often surprisingly beautiful art form that developed, loosely, in 16th-century Italy when the hegemony of ancient Greek theoretical knowledge of the The anatomy, still in use some 1,000 years later, was broken by the likes of Vasalius, an anatomist who dissected as artists drew on “life,” tempering the somewhat brutal effect by artfully placing the figures against a classic landscape.

“They all seem rather thoughtful,” laughs Thomas Elliott, responsible for learning and interpretation. “This was to alleviate the harshness of the dissection room, whereas in Britain from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries there was real movement to achieve anatomical precision, although the illustrations were more horrible. ”

But the anatomical representations of Vaselius had a considerable influence on the evolution towards the observation of the life and the removal of the more theoretical knowledge transmitted since Antiquity, result and nourishment of the thirst to explore all the aspects of human life in Renaissance Italy, from the representation of the human form – and in this they looked back to the artistic refinement of the classical era – to the mysteries of the human body.

Elliott speaks to me through the “Featured Exhibits,” which include the Royal College of Surgeons’ copy of Gray’s Anatomy, annotated with suggestions for amendments by Gray himself prior to publication in 1858. Templates exist waxwork from the late 18th century by anatomist Joseph Towne, who worked for Guys Hospital in London. “The wax models usually came from Italy. We have a dissected head and torso – you see the dissected head bilaterally and see the outer surface on one side and the inside on the other. The torso is open to show the major organs.

It was about showing medical students what to expect. The problem with the historical study of anatomy, which these types of models evolved to overcome, was twofold. “Corpses were rare in the 18th century. There was a moral and legal question mark over the provision of the body, and the public perception was that it was something untoward. Then there was no refrigeration, so even if you could hold an anatomy class, there would be putrefaction issues after the body was dissected. The models had more permanence and they were remarkably precise.

Elliott’s favorites are the papier-mâché models made by French anatomist Thomas Louis Auzoux at the end of the 18th century at a factory in Normandy where he began mass production of models which were sent to medical schools in the whole world. “They are beautiful,” says Elliott. The Surgeons’ Room has an Auzoux mini-figurine that breaks down into 92 pieces, all labeled and designed to be passed on by students, so that they can disassemble and reassemble the figurine, “and familiarize themselves with the anatomy.” .

“About ten years ago, I was in France and I found a museum dedicated to his work. They were full-size papier-mâché human anatomy figurines, made up of hundreds of detachable parts, and other things as well – a massive snail and a spider, botanical models, all very detailed. The workmanship and skill level were astounding.

Anatomical models were designed to be reused, so the fact that we still have so many 130 years later is a testament to the craftsmanship involved.

A Model Education, Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, 0131 527 1711/1600, www.rcsed.ac.uk Until June 26, 2022 (closing for Christmas at 3 p.m. on December 24; reopening January 5, 2022) all every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance included in the price of the entrance ticket to Surgeons’ Hall 8 £ / 8 £ 4.50

Critics’ Choice:

THE HQ of the Scottish Ornithologists Club is located in a charming building just outside Aberlady, and although its excellent shop has everything from bird-related Christmas decorations to binoculars and a fantastic selection of second-hand books on the birds, its exhibition space, overlooking the reeds towards the sea, has an ever-changing list of exhibits, each of which interprets the world of birds through different eyes. This month, and through January 9, it’s the turn of East Lothian-based artist Darren Woodhead, who works with watercolors in the field painting birds as he meets them by all means. time. It has always been Woodhead’s way, painting directly in watercolors, the resulting images both impressionistic and evocative, yet having a precision in bird behavior and plumage that comes from the enthusiasm and knowledge of the birds. ‘a life. Lots of paintings, all of which are for sale, have been completed over the past year as we walked through the blockades – although Woodhead, quite literally, did it on his bike, painting supplies on his back. All the local birds are here, from the glow of an unexpected kingfisher to the tumbling thrushes on a winter hedge. “Although the world has changed, my need to observe, document and record in watercolors has not changed. Even more now, it is my escape, my feeling of serenity and belonging. Most of the paintings come from sightings of birds in the garden or from “one man on his bicycle” trips through the field. Here I was able to immerse myself in the changing seasons and the parallel natural world, and feel the ultimate connection to my subject, close to home.

Close to Home, Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Waterston House, Aberlady, East Lothian, 01875 871330 www.the-soc.org.uk, until January 9, Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed December 25 to January 2

Do not miss

As with the rest of the country, An Tobar holds its annual open exhibition in time for the holiday season, a celebration of the region’s artistic work. This year’s theme, open to interpretation and to all, selected, is Hidden. In tandem, a magnificent exhibition of painted bones and bone jewelry from the talented children of Dervaig Primary School, who also created workshop films to illuminate the ensemble.

Hiddden / Bones, An Tobar, Argyll Terrace, Tobermory, Mull, 01688 302211, www.comar.co.uk Until March 11, 2022, Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.