Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vesalius: Imagining the Body Exhibition, Leuven, Belgium: A Guest Post by Michael Sappol, National Library of Medicine

Following is another guest post by our good friend Michael Sappol--author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies, curator of Dream Anatomy, and historian at the National Library of Medicine--about an excellent looking exhibition in Leuven:
I recently had the privilege of participating in a brilliant three-day international conference on “Bodies Beyond Borders: The Circulation of Anatomical Knowledge, 1750-1950”.  The symposium — a smart mix of well-established scholars and new talent — was held in Leuven, Belgium, an ancient city full of charmingly twisted cobblestone streets and alleys. In the central square, the old town hall is covered from top to bottom with hundreds of stone figures. It’s a “where’s Waldo” exercise to spot anybody in particular, but one of the figures is the founder of modern anatomy, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). Vesalius twice studied at the University of Leuven (1530, 1536) before going on to Padua, where he performed dissections, gave lectures, wrote treatises and authored De humani corporis fabrica (1543), the first great illustrated atlas of anatomy.

Leuven also has a wonderful art museum: “M-Museum”. To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vesalius’s birth, M has put on a brilliant show of anatomical art and objects. As one might expect, there are first editions of Vesalius, along with a register from the 1530s that lists Vesalius as one of the students enrolled in the university. But the exhibition goes from there right up to the present, and features many rare and amazing drawings, paintings, prints, models, sculptures, even the first x-ray “cinematograph” (1898). Highlights for me: Clemente Susini’s exquisite wax sculpture of a dissected cadaveric head (4th image down; 1798); Jan Wandelaar’s bigger than life-size sketches for Albinus’s Tabulae sceleti et musculorum (ca. 1726); a brilliantly hand-colored engraving of a 17th-century Dutch anatomical theater (bottom image); and… (Actually, I loved almost everything on display, and also love the way it was displayed. Congratulations to curator Geert Vanpaemel!)

You probably wish you could go to Leuven to see this show, but you can’t: it closes on January 18. (Boo-hoo.) (Sob.)
Following is more info about the exhibition, from the M-Museum website; you can find out more by clicking here.
From THU 02/10 until SUN 18/01
M-Museum Leuven
Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28, 3000 Leuven
Curator: Geert Vanpaemel
The exhibition at M is the beating heart and the must see highlight of the citywide project, both for Vesalius experts and novices.

The exhibition highlights various and unexpected sides of Vesalius. You can admire the original version of the voluminous book 'Fabrica' or page through the digital version. Discover all about his life, work and life's work, from his humanist background to his direct influence on his contemporaries.

Discover how Greek sculpture inspired Vesalius, walk among detailed anatomical sketches and wax statues, and meet the famous Glass Man. Be amazed by the 'living' dead who candidly reveal what is concealed under their skin and experience how Vesalius' anatomical knowledge lives on in art and science. For example, even Rodin and Matisse were inspired by Vesalius' muscle men.

The exhibition presents a life-sized replica of an anatomical theatre – the place where live dissections were once performed. The exhibition also focuses on the evolution of medical imaging over the past 500 years. You can see how anatomy developed into a fully-fledged branch of medicine and how the human body gradually revealed its secrets over the centuries. Thanks to the possibilities that 3D modelling now provide, you can also explore the medical science of the future.

Vesalius will get under the skin of all the visitors to M, that much is certain. But you will also be captivated by the other cultural projects related to the world-famous anatomist. So come prepared!
  1. Franz Tschackert, De Glazen man, 1930 © Deutsches Hygiene Museum, Dresden, inv. Volker Kreidler 1962.
  2. Jacques Gautier D'Agoty , compleat Myologie color and natural size, 1746
  3. Andreas Vesalius, De Tabulae Anatomicae, ca. 1540 © Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België, inv. Imp II 42.417 C Est. 
  4. William Pink, Smugglerius, 1834 (orig. 1775)  © Isabelle Arthuis 
  5. Clemente Susini, De innervatie van het gezicht, 1798. © Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Parijs - Direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
  6. Waxwork by Clemente Susini and painting  Anatomy Lesson of Dr . Frederik Ruysch by Adriaen Backer © Isabelle Arthuis 
  7. Bust of a woman by André -Pierre Pinson and painting ' Anatomy Lesson of Dr . Frederik Ruysch ' from ' Adriaen Backer © Isabelle Arthuis 
  8. Installation photo, © Isabelle Arthuis 
  9. Anatomical theater, Joannes Blaeu Show Neel of the cities of the Vereenighde, Netherlands, with their descriptions 1649 © Royal Library of Belgium , III 94 530 E 1  

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