Sunday, November 30, 2008

Surgeon's Guild Portraits at the Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 17th and 18th Century

When I visited the Amsterdams Historisch Museum a few weeks ago, I was surprised and thrilled to find, in a room devoted to enormous guild portraits of different sorts of tradesmen, 2 walls devoted to portraits of surgeons guilds (see top photo for an installation view.)

The portraits range from the early 17th to the late 18th Century and are truly spectacular in scale, quality, and affect. Many of the guild portraits were painted during the annual surgeon's guild public dissection, for which the city would provide an executed criminal.

My favorite of these paintings is the third image down, the painting of one of my favorite historical figures of all time, Doctor Frederick Ruysch, dissecting an infant with the assistance of his son, who holds an animatedly posed child's skeleton. Ruysch was a brilliant Dutch anatomist famous for his imaginative tableaus using similarly animated tiny skeletons, as well as his uncannily life-like wet specimens, famously captured by Rosamond Purcell in the wonderful Finders, Keepers.

I have found copies of all the surgeon's guild paintings on view in this room (and a few more found in the museum's portrait database) and posted them here, for your pleasure.

Images, top to bottom :1) Installation view. 2)Anatomische les van Dr. Sebastiaan Egbertsz., ca. 1601-'03; Aert Pietersz. (ca. 1550 - 1612). 3) Anatomische les van Dr. Frederick Ruysch, 1683; Jan van Neck (ca. 1634/'35 - 1714). 4) De osteologieles van Dr. Sebastiaen Egbertsz., 1619; toegeschreven aan Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy (1591 - 1653) toegeschreven aan Thomas de Keyser (1596 of 1597 - 1667). 5) Anatomische les van Prof. Frederik Ruysch, 1670; Adriaen Backer (ca. 1630-'32 - 1684). 6) Anatomische les van Dr. Willem Röell, 1728; Cornelis Troost (1697 - 1750). 7) Anatomische les van Dr. Jan Deijman (fragment), 1656; Rembrandt (1606 - 1669)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anatomical Chart From "Cyclopaedia," 1728, Volume 1

I just discovered this wonderful anatomical chart (see above) from volume one of Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, published in 1728. A beautiful, hi-res version of the image is available in the Wikipedia commons; I highly encourage you to visit the original (here) which is well worth a long, involved perusing, but is, sadly, too large to include here. To encourage you to visit the original, I have selected out some of my favorite details above. You can also check out the entire digitized book here, on the University of Wisconsin Digital collections website.

About the Cyclopedia project, an early attempt to catalog all earthly knowledge, from Wikipedia:
Cyclopaedia: or, A Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (folio, 2 vols.) was an encyclopedia published by Ephraim Chambers in London in 1728, and reprinted in numerous editions in the 18th century. The Cyclopaedia was one of the first general encyclopedias to be produced in English. The 1728 subtitle gives a summary of the aims of the author: Cyclopaedia, or, A universal dictionary of arts and sciences: containing the definitions of the terms, and accounts of the things signify'd thereby, in the several arts, both liberal and mechanical, and the several sciences, human and divine: the figures, kinds, properties, productions, preparations, and uses, of things natural and artificial; the rise, progress, and state of things ecclesiastical, civil, military, and commercial: with the several systems, sects, opinions, &c; among philosophers, divines, mathematicians, physicians, antiquaries, criticks, &c: The whole intended as a course of ancient and modern learning.

Via the Chris Chubbuck Photo blog.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Making Visible Embryos," University of Cambridge Online Exhibition

Nick Hopwood of the University of Cambridge just sent me a link to a wonderful new online exhibit about the history of visualizing the human embryo, produced by Tatjana Buklijas and himself with support from the Wellcome Trust. The web exhibition is both broad and specific in its approach. As the website explains:

Images of human embryos are everywhere. We see them in newspapers, clinics, classrooms, laboratories, family albums and on the internet. Debates about abortion, assisted conception, cloning and Darwinism have sometimes made these images hugely controversial, but they are also routine. We tend to take them for granted today. Yet 250 years ago human development was still nowhere to be seen.

Developing embryos were first drawn in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Modern medicine and biology exploited technical innovations as pictures and models communicated new attitudes to childbirth, evolution and reproduction. In the twentieth century they became the dominant representations of pregnancy and prominent symbols of hope and fear. Wherever we stand in today’s debates, it should enrich and may challenge our understandings to explore how these icons have been made.

The "Making Visible Embryos" web exhibit approaches a complex, wide-spanning subject engagingly and clearly without ever oversimplifying the subject matter. It is well-designed with heavily (and beautifully) illustrated pages (see above; visit the website to find out more about each image.)

The exhibit deftly explores the changes in metaphor, imagery, and understanding of the mysterious and centuries-hidden embryo, from speculative, religiously influenced illustrations of the 1300s to the modern day ultrasound. It also touches on popular debates about embryology, uses of the embryo in the fine arts, the history of (and uses of) illustration and modeling of the embryo, and contemporary controversies surrounding the embryo in the 21st century.

All in all, a fascinating treatment of a complex subject, beautifully designed, thought-provoking, and chock-full of resources and source information; this web exploration takes a subject we take for granted and examines the specific thinkers, physicians, artists, and medical and artistic advances that have quietly influenced our contemporary understanding and visualization. A real pleasure! I highly recommend you visit the website to see for yourself; you can do so by clicking here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Mütter Museum Calendar is Back!

At long last, after a 6 year hiatus, the beloved Mütter Museum calendar has returned, just in time to celebrate the Mütter Museum's sesquicentennial.

The 2009 calendar is the continuation of those of years past, featuring an assortment of gorgeous photographs by an array of artists, all of them featuring objects found in the holdings of Philadelphia's wonderful Mütter Museum. Many of the artists included in this installment will be familiar to fans of previous calendars and the The Mutter Museum book, such as Rosamond Purcell, Max Aguilera-Hellweg, and William Wegman.

The Mütter Museum calendar was my introduction--as a sheltered, history-hungry California youth--to the wonderful, uncanny world of medical museums; Laura Lindgren of Blast Books tells me that she's already at work on the 2010 calendar, so it looks as if this 2009 edition is, happily, the first of many new calendars to come. Hooray for that!

The Mütter Museum calendar and two Mütter Museum books are published by Blast Books. You can purchase a copy of the calendar here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Fight to Save Paris' Deyrolle, Paris' Own Naturalia Shop cum Natural History Museum

There is a wonderful story in the New York Times about the famous Deyrolle of Paris--likened to a natural history museum where one could buy nearly everything--and the aftermath of its recent destruction by fire.

Deyrolle, founded in 1831 by well-known entomologist Jean-Baptiste Deyrolle, has for over a century been a Parisian institution for locals and tourists alike. Part taxidermy shop and part museum, Deyrolle displayed its epic taxidermy, fossils, butterfly collection, shadow boxes and bell jars in Victorian, wood-cased splendor. Last February, a fire sparked by a short circuit destroyed 90% of the collection.

Impressively, the many fans of Deyrolle have gone to great lengths to save the institution and help restore it to former greatness. A Mr. de Broglie has created a "Friends of Deyrolle" organization to solicit donations of stuffed animals and other naturalia from private and public collections. As Mr. de Broglie explaiend, “Deyrolle was the place in Paris you’d first come as a child, then later bring your friends, then your fiancée, then your own children and your grandchildren. How could people close their eyes and let it disappear? It would have been impossible.”

Other measures, public and private, have been put into effect. Provincial French museums are being contacted in search of old wooden cases, fashion house Hermes reissued a limited-edition scarf to benefit Deyrolle, and many individuals have donated treasured items from their own collection--some of which were even objects purchased at Deyrolle to begin with. The publishing house Gallimard released a a history of Deyrolle with a preface by French novelist Pierre Assouline whose sales would benefit Deyrolle, and Christie's auction house held an auction hosted by the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature which raised $333,000 by auctioning off artworks by artists such as Jan Fabre and Mark Dion. The public has come together, in a touching and effective way, to save and restore this threatened Parisian institution.

To read more about it, see the original article. To see more images, visit the slideshow on the New York Times website.

Thanks to Jim and Eric for sending this along!

All images from the New York Times Slideshow. Top image is pre-fire, bottom is post-fire.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Wellcome Library Blog

It just came to my attention that the Wellcome Library has launched a blog! Here you will find interesting posts on topical matters relating to Wellcome concerns, descriptions of upcoming events and new publications, job opportunities, and links to wonderful Wellcome features such as the Wellcome Images database, from which the above image is drawn. I am looking forward to seeing how this blog develops in future months; judging from past work from the organization, its sure to be interesting.

You can visit the blog here. For recent Morbid Anatomy posts about the Wellcome, click here.

Image Credit: In a room filled with skulls of the famous, the phrenologist Gall examines Pitt the Younger and Gustavus IV, the King of Sweden, both currently plagued by Napoléon. Coloured etching, 1806. Wellcome Library, London

Morbid Anatomy List of Contemporary(ish) Artists

BLOG NOTE: If you have not already, please check out a newly added Morbid Anatomy feature--The "Contemporary(ish) Artist" list. This list features links to artists working at the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture, and can be found at the lower right side of the webpage, beneath the "On The Web" collection. You might recognize many of these artists from previous MA posts, others might be new to you.

I want to stress that this list is a work-in-progress, and I am sure I have forgotten important people, so my apologies in advance. If any kind readers feel I have overlooked any appropriate individuals, or if you are an artist I have included in the list and would prefer I link to a different page, please contact me at

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Visit to the Hunterian Museum, via Bioephemera

Apropos my current visit to London, check out this wonderful post on the London Hunterian Museum--old and new, as shown above--on the Bioephemera Website.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Fantastic Images from the Upcoming "Medical & Science Library of Gerald I. Sugarman, MD" Auction

More information on the auction, and available lots, here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Medical & Science Library of Gerald I. Sugarman, MD" auction, November 20, 2008

A very kind Morbid Anatomy reader has alerted me to the upcoming Medical & Science Library of Gerald I. Sugarman, MD auction at PBA Galleries in San Francisco. The auction, which will take place on November 20th, features rare book, prints, instruments and ephemera from the realms of medicine, science and natural history. Above are a very few of my favorite objects; see a more complete collection of favorites here. To find out more about the auction and to see the complete set of available artifacts, visit the PBA Galleries Website.

All images from the PBA Auction House Website. To find out information about each image, visit my Flickr collection of favorites or the auction website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Lessons in anatomy made easy: Anatomical models in scientific and cultural context," November 6th and 7th, Leiden, The Netherlands

If any of you are around Leiden, the Netherlands, over the next few days, I highly recommend you poke you head in at an international conference on anatomical models called "Lessons in anatomy made easy: Anatomical models in scientific and cultural context." This conference is being held at the wonderful Boerhaave Museum to celebrate the newly completed restoration of the museum's expansive collection of Dr. Auzoux papier-mâché anatomical models. The conference begins at 9 AM tomorrow, and will include a number of speakers from many communities presenting on a variety of topics clustered around the central idea of the art, history, care, and culture of anatomical models. I will be delivering a paper on the art and history of anatomical models as part of this conference at 10:30 on Friday, November 7th.

More on the conference here. More on Auzoux and his work here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dibner Hall of Science, The Huntington Library

On November 1st, a new permanent exhibition opened at the Huntington Library. Called " ‘Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World," the exhibition showcases highlights from the Burndy Library, one of the world's largest libraries of books on the history of science and technology, which was recently donated to the Huntington by the Dibner family. The foci of the exhibition are astronomy, natural history, medicine, and light.

Daniel Lewis, the curator of the exhibition, explains “we want people to think about the beauty of science in a historical context—the elegant breakthroughs, the remarkable discoveries, and the amazing people and stories behind them.”

For more information, visit the Huntington's website here. For a review of the new hall, see Ars Technica. For more on the Burndy Library, see this wikipedia entry. Found via SGV Tribune.

First image: SGV Tribune Caption reads "Dan Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science & Technology at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Thursday October 16, 2008." Staff Photo by Walt Mancini
Second image: From the Los Angeles Times. Photo by Mark Boster
Third image: The spine. From William Cheselden, Osteographia, or the Anatomy of the Bones, London, 1733
Fourth image: The “flayed angel.” From Gautier D'Agoty and Joseph Guichard Duverny, Myologie complete (Comprehensive Study of the Muscles), Paris, 1746.
Fifth image: Twins. From George Spratt, Obstetric Tables, London, 1841.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Extraordinary Insect Collections From Around The World.

There is very little I find so beautiful as pinned insects in their boxes; I came across these wonderful images of extraordinary insect collections on a website called Kolbykirk.

The collections photographed: Top: the U.S. National Entomological Collection at the Smithsonian Institution; Middle: The Louisiana State Arthropod Museum; Bottom: The Victoria Museums Entomology Collection in Melbourne, Australia.