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Getting Real

Removing Metaphor and Fancy from Anatomy

Between 1680 and 1800, anatomists began purging imaginative elements from scientific illustration. The truth value of anatomy, they argued, was compromised by visual metaphors, fantastic landscapes, and comic poses. As old print technologies were perfected and new ones invented, anatomical illustration began to achieve greater technical precision, and a brilliant and dreamlike hyper-aestheticism that showed off, with great artistry, a more sophisticated knowledge and heightened perception of the boundaries and surfaces of the body.

The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus by William Hunter and Jan van RiemsdykTopographisch-anatomischer atlas by Wilhelm Braune and C. SchmiedelOntleding des menschelyken lichaams... by Govard Bidloo and Gérard de Lairesse

Ultimately, two styles of anatomical realism emerged. One aimed to show the reality of dissection, the cutting open of a particular body with all the prosthetics, furniture and setting of dissection—and the ugliness of anatomical mutilation. The other aimed to show a higher reality, displaying beautified, cleaned-up, idealized bodies and body-parts that float in air, with no reference to any one dissection.



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Beautiful Ugliness: Bidloo
Another Reality

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Last updated: 8 March 2004



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