Style and non-style in anatomical illustration: From Renaissance Humanism to Henry Gray


Martin Kemp, Trinity College, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BH, UK. E:


Style is a familiar category for the analysis of art. It is less so in the history of anatomical illustration. The great Renaissance and Baroque picture books of anatomy illustrated with stylish woodcuts and engravings, such as those by Charles Estienne, Andreas Vesalius and Govard Bidloo, showed figures in dramatic action in keeping with philosophical and theological ideas about human nature. Parallels can be found in paintings of the period, such as those by Titian, Michelangelo and Hans Baldung Grien. The anatomists also claimed to portray the body in an objective manner, and showed themselves as heroes of the discovery of human knowledge. Rembrandt’s painting of Dr Nicholas Tulp is the best-known image of the anatomist as hero. The British empirical tradition in the 18th century saw William Cheselden and William Hunter working with techniques of representation that were intended to guarantee detailed realism. The ambition to portray forms life-size led to massive volumes, such as those by Antonio Mascagni. John Bell, the Scottish anatomist, criticized the size and pretensions of the earlier books and argued for a plain style adapted to the needs of teaching and surgery. Henry Gray’s famous Anatomy of 1858, illustrated by Henry Vandyke Carter, aspired to a simple descriptive mode of functional representation that avoided stylishness, resulting in a style of its own. Successive editions of Gray progressively saw the replacement of Gray’s method and of all his illustrations. The 150th anniversary edition, edited by Susan Standring, radically re-thinks the role of Gray’s book within the teaching of medicine.