|Michelangelo Buonarotti, "Leg muscles," red chalk|
Because artists of the 16th and 17th centuries were exploring the unknown--the interior of the body--and were primarily doing their drawings for personal study they inevitably made errors. The goal of most of these early artists was personal information only, with the exception of daVinci, whose anatomic work he intended to publish as an anatomy treatise. Anyway, it would be instructive some day to compare early artists' drawings with contemporary images. Regardless of the artists' purposes many early drawings retain the ability to excite the eye and mind.
|Leonardo daVinci, "The heart," ink ca 1511|
There were important differences among early artists and anatomists. Some of them like daVinci were studying anatomy for its own sake rather than to advance their artistic skills. On the other hand, for many artists the study of anatomy was no doubt partly from curiosity but it was an artistic curiosity. Many Leonardo's anatomy drawings are integral to his notes on the subject. Michelangelo's fewer remaining drawings (he destroyed many) deal with surface anatomy and superficial muscles and stand alone without notes or captions. Simple comparison shows the vastly different focus of the two artists' anatomic drawings.
|Andreas Vesalius, "Tabulae anatomica sex" 1538|
His 1543 book "De humani corporis fabrica," or The Structure of the Human Body is perhaps the most famous example of the melding of art and anatomic study. Vesalius personally drew early anatomic charts (his "Tabulae anatomic sex" or Six Anatomic Tables of 1538) even before the publication of his famous Fabrica a few years later.
|Andreas Vesalius, "Fabrica p.174," woodcut 1543|
The images in the Fabrica are strictly accurate, based on the lectures Vesalius gave to his medical students at Padua and his many personal dissections. (He believed that in order to actually understand the structure of the body a student should dissect instead of relying on demonstrations, a practice that continues in medical schools today.) Accuracy aside, though, the images are beautiful and deftly made, unlike other anatomic books of the time, showing the influence of the masters. Perhaps that is the training received by Calcar but also reflects on the personality of Vesalius.
|"Right arm," digital drawn copy from the Fabrica|
Anatomy and the Masters
United Kingdom Royal Collection
Historical Anatomies on the Web