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Visual Dissection – The Art of Anatomy

This exhibition celebrates the relationship between art and anatomical science over the last four centuries. It’s housed in architect Basil Spence’s great University Library, and opens with a banner-quote from Goethe, subverting the assumption that to analyze in detail is to destroy: Building up teaches more than tearing apart, joining together more than separating.

The earliest piece on show is a bronze equestrian écorché, a figure study from the workshop of Giambologna demonstrating the musculature of the horse in motion and dating from 1585. Curator Douglas Stevens has shown the piece alongside anatomist Carlo Ruini’s veterinary manual of 1618, open to a plate evidently copied from the bronze – an example of art informing veterinary medicine.

Some of the most moving exhibits are wax moulage casts to illustrate skin diseases, in which the hands, faces, and pustular eruptions of now-anonymous patients are immortalized. Examining them I was reminded of the delicacy and sadness of the Australian artist Ron Mueck’s sculptures. There are bronchial airways cast in amber wax, root-and-branch reminders that our lungs are like trees in our chests. Anatomy also forms the bridge between science and art in a display for the twenty-first century: a full-size hologram of a woman, who shifts shape according to the viewer’s perspective. From the right she’s just brain, eyeballs, and viscera.  Shift a few inches left and she’s simply bones, blood and nerves, her ghostly arteries projecting into substanceless breasts.  From the left she’s a flayed écorché, illustrating the beauty we all carry inside.

For more information, visit www.ed.ac.uk.

Category: Exhibition
Anatomical Museum
Doorway 3, Medical School, Teviot Place,
Edinburgh, United Kingdom