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Head to the Getty Center Now!

A new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles shows the centuries-long intersection of art and anatomy.


“Flesh and Bones: The Art of Anatomy” runs through July 10.


On display? A fascinating array of artistic, anatomical drawings spanning from the 16th century up to today. “From spectacular life-size illustrations to delicate paper flaps that lift to reveal the body's interior, the structure of the body is represented through a range of media,” says the exhibition’s website.


One of the many anatomical drawings on display at “Flesh and Bones: The Art of Anatomy” exhibition. Source: getty.edu


The drawings hark back to a past in which art and anatomy students were difficult to distinguish, and serve as a reminder that “it takes artists and scientists to understand the human body,” says the curator Monique Kornell.


Probably the earliest example of this intersection is Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish man many consider to be the father of anatomy. As a teacher, he was known to “pick up a piece of charcoal” and draw on the very table he was dissecting on to explain anatomy to his students.


Vesalius is best known for “On the Fabric of the Human Body,” a mammoth seven-book tome that, with its vast quantity and quality of drawings, set the standard for anatomy illustrations. According to Kornell, during the making of this drawing, Vesalius suspended a dissected cadaver “by a rope and pulley attached to a beam, thus allowing him to raise or lower the body and to turn and pose it.” Attention to detail, folks!


A first edition of “On the Fabric of the Human Body,” published in 1543, is just one of the many works offered at the exhibition.


Also on display are three life-sized figures by Italian artist Antonio Cattani, made up of five joined prints. 18th-century students wondering about the size and form of a gallbladder or a calf muscle could get a real-life approximation by consulting the life-sized prints.


Later, in the 19th century, a different form of drawing arose that focused on the structures most visible on the human body: muscles and bones. This drawing, by French army surgeon (and illustrator) Jean Galbert Salvage, depicts muscles in red and bones in black colors. To make the drawings, Salvage obtained cadavers of soldiers that died in their prime (to “best illustrate the intricacies of the human body”), dissecting them and setting them in a Gladiator’s pose.


The idea behind the Gladiator pose, aside from the historical nod to ancient Greek sculpture, is to show that “beneath their surface lay anatomical layers to explore by picking up a chisel,” writes Kornell.


The intersection of art and science is old, and well-travelled. Even the famed sculptor Michelangelo dissected cadavers to better represent his human subjects. During the Renaissance, art brought in thousands of students and spawned generations of anatomy learning. “Flesh and Bones: The Art of Anatomy” reflects the fact that without one, there cannot be the other.


Tickets to the exhibition are free… So, what are you waiting for?

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