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Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy: Images from a Scientific Revolution

Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy: Images from a Scientific Revolution

Laurenza, Domenico
48 pages
72 illustrations
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In Italy in the sixteenth century an unprecedented and widespread interest in anatomy gave rise to a unique collaboration between science and art. Anatomists published illustrated educational treatises, and artists not only helped illustrate those volumes but also studied anatomy for their own inspiration and understanding. Their research was often the impetus for remarkable drawings and sculptures.

This issue of the Bulletin presents a succinct history of art and anatomy in Italy during the Renaissance. The author, Domenico Laurenza, is a science historian with a strong interest in art who spent 2006–7 and 2009 at the Metropolitan Museum as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow and is now affiliated with the Museo Galileo's Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence. At the Met, he was able to conduct his research with ideal resources: the Museum's collection is rare in that it contains not only scores of drawings by the greatest artist-anatomists of the Renaissance—most prominently Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael—but also anatomical manuscripts and books that are most often found in libraries rather than museums.

The opportunity to look at both kinds of documents simultaneously enabled Dr. Laurenza to understand the artists' anatomical drawings in the context of the history of science. For example, while he was studying a well-known anatomical drawing by Raphael he discovered that another, related drawing of Raphael's was almost certainly the direct source for a plate in an anatomical treatise by Berengario da Carpi, a milestone in the history of anatomy. And through its printed version in Berengario's treatise, that drawing had a bearing on one of the plates in Andreas Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica, the masterpiece of Renaissance scientific anatomy.

Berengario da Carpi was a doctor, but he was also a collector of works of art. He had a special preference for drawings, particularly Raphael's, and that penchant certainly played a role in his choice of illustrations. Similarly, the gifts of a number of other doctors who were also collectors have significantly enriched our holdings of both books and drawings.

The Metropolitan's exceptional collection inspired a 1984 study, Artists & Anatomists by A. Hyatt Mayor, Curator of Prints here from 1946 to 1966. The essay in this Bulletin complements that earlier work, as it presents many of the same drawings and documents from a scientific perspective. We are sure to benefit from Dr. Laurenza's fresh approach to this material. Indeed, it seems the very essence of an encyclopedic museum to embrace such a breadth of interpretations.

Fasciculo di medicina, Johannes de Ketham  German, Woodcut
Multiple artists/makers
February 5, 1493 [modern style, 1494]
Ortus Sanitatis/ De herbis et plantis/ De Animalibus & reptilibus ..., Johann Prüss the Elder  German, Woodcut
Johann Prüss the Elder
before 1497
Margarita Philosophica, Urs Graf  Swiss, Woodcut
Multiple artists/makers
16 March 1504 or 17 April 1504
Battle of the Nude Men, Antonio Pollaiuolo  Italian, Engraving
Antonio Pollaiuolo
ca. 1470–90
A Bear Walking, Leonardo da Vinci  Italian, silverpoint on light buff prepared paper
Leonardo da Vinci
ca. 1482–85
Naked male torso seen from behind, Wenceslaus Hollar  Bohemian, Etching; only state
Wenceslaus Hollar
Leonardo da Vinci
Studies for the Libyan Sibyl (recto); Studies for the Libyan Sibyl and a small Sketch for a Seated Figure (verso), Michelangelo Buonarroti  Italian, Red chalk, with small accents of white chalk on the left shoulder of the figure in the main study (recto); soft black chalk, or less probably charcoal (verso)
Michelangelo Buonarroti
ca. 1510–11
Anatomical Studies of a Leg (recto); Study of a Leg (verso), Michelangelo Buonarroti  Italian, Pen and brown ink, and red chalk (recto); pen and brown ink (verso)
Michelangelo Buonarroti
Anatomical Study of a Knee, Michelangelo Buonarroti  Italian, Pen and brown ink
Michelangelo Buonarroti
De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres, Charles Estienne  French, Woodcut
Multiple artists/makers
De humani corporis fabrica (Of the Structure of the Human Body), Andreas Vesalius  Flemish, Woodcut
Multiple artists/makers
Two Flayed Men and Their Skeletons, Domenico del Barbiere  Italian, Engraving
Domenico del Barbiere
ca. 1540–45
Tabulae Anatomicae, Barth. Eustachius  Italian
Barth. Eustachius
Caricature of the Laocoön scuptural group, excavated in Rome in 1506, Nicolò Boldrini  Italian, Woodcut
Nicolò Boldrini
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
ca. 1540–45
Anatomia del Cavallo. Infirmita del Cavallo, Carlo Ruini  Italian, Woodcut
Carlo Ruini
A. Bindoni il Giovane
De Vocis Auditusque, Giulio Casserio (Casserius)  Italian, Engraving
Giulio Casserio (Casserius)
Skull in Profile, Battista Franco (?) Italian, Pen and brown ink
Battista Franco
ca. 1538
Studies of the Leg of a Man and a Horse's Head (recto); sketches of the back of a man's left shoulder and a chained (?) figure., Central Italian , second quarter 16th century, Pen and brown ink (the horse's head in a different pen and brown ink), brush and wash in two shades of brown (recto); red chalk and pencil (verso), Central Italian
Central Italian
second quarter 16th century
The Practitioners of the Visual Arts, Cornelis Cort  Netherlandish, Engraving
Cornelis Cort
Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus
Study of Anatomy (A Youth Drawing an Ecorché of a Standing Man), Anonymous, Italian, 16th to early 17th century  Italian, Pen and brown ink, brush and gray-brown wash, over traces of black chalk or leadpoint
Anonymous, Italian, 16th to early 17th century
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Laurenza, Domenico. 2012. Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy: Images from a Scientific Revolution. New York : New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art ; distributed by Yale University Press.