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Anatomical Dreamtime

The Early Modern Era

With the founding of the first medical schools in medieval Europe, anatomy ascended to a prominent position in the medical curriculum. Human dissection was performed as a ritual that illustrated the treatises of revered ancient authors—and that dramatized the power and knowledge of the medical profession. The mid-fifteenth-century invention of the printing press, and the rise of a new spirit of critical inquiry associated with the Renaissance, inspired a scientific revolution in anatomy. Anatomists began to dissect in order to investigate the structure of the body, and produced texts illustrated with images based on their dissections.

Anatomia del corpo humano by Juan Valverde de Amusco De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas VesaliusTabulae Anatomicae by Giulio Casserio and Odoardo Fialetti

In the early modern era (1450-1750), the boundary between art and science was ill-defined. Anatomists and their artist collaborators made use of familiar modes of representation — the iconography of landscape, nudity, mythology and Christianity. Artists tried to create illustrations that were accurate, but also amazing, beautiful, and entertaining.


Next Topic: Anatomical Primitives
Cadavers at Play
Anatomical Arts and Sciences
Body Part as Body Art
Show-off Cadavers

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Last updated: 9 March 2004



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