One of the most famous images of Écorché in modern art. The sculpture was made by the artist at the age of 25 in Rome, as a preparatory study for the marble statue of St. John the Baptist, which was to become a pendant for the sculpture of St. Bruno in the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Houdon attended an anatomy course in Rome, accompanied dissections on human corpses, and diligently studied anatomical drawings in order to accurately depict the sculpture of a man’s physique. The work he created is characterized not only by a very faithful representation of the muscles, but also by an animated pose. The man’s right hand is stretched horizontally in front of him – in a gesture of blessing, which was to be repeated in the figure of St. John the Baptist. Écorché’s weight rests on his left foot, and the right leg is grasped slightly bent with the foot slightly raised, suggesting a step forward that is about to take place. The work was quickly recognized as a separate work of art. Charles Natoire, the director of the French Academy in Rome, acquired it and included it in the collection of plaster casts. Natoire’s successor as director of the Academy, the famous painter Joseph Marie Vien, ordered all students to study this work on a compulsory basis. Houdon himself, realizing that his anatomical sculpture was such a great success, made numerous copies of it in Rome and later in Paris, which enjoyed great popularity in Europe. Especially popular with collectors and art lecturers was the Écorché variant with the hand raised. Houdon’s anatomical works were also copied many times after his death.
Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci “The Vitruvian Man” is dated to around 1490. It’s author presented on paper, with a pencil, a naked figure of a man in two superimposed positions with arms and legs apart, and at the same time inscribed in a circle and a square. The drawing refers to the “De Architectura” treatise (datedbetween 30 and 15 BC), created by the famous Roman architect Vitruvius. This ancient work discusses the human body in the context of the search for perfect proportions, which drew the attention of Leonardo, fascinated by human anatomy. Da Vinci believed that the functioning of the human body can be compared to the operation of the microcosm against the backdrop of the universe. On this basis, for example, he juxtaposed the human skeleton with the rocks of the planet, and the action of the lungs during breathing with the ebb and flow of the oceans. The drawing of the Vitruvian Man is stored in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice and is very rarely shown at exhibitions.
One of the most important sculptural works of the classical period in Greek art has survived to our times only in the form of marble copies from Roman times. Myron’s work depicts a naked athlete at the moment of discus throw. His right foot is firmly set in front while his left foot is tiptoe. The torso and head are turned to the right, while the right arm retracts the disc. Thanks to this, the athlete’s pose is very dynamic and the figure is extremely proportional and balanced. The work can boast of a very large knowledge of human anatomy, at a time when human corpses were not yet dissected, and body observations were only possible during sports competitions or battlefields. In Myron’s work, stretched muscles, modeled skin folds, and nails on the athlete’s legs and hands were reproduced with great precision. The entire performance is characterized by a very high level of realism and the severity of the style, which is mainly manifested in the lack of showing the internal emotions of the discus thrower.
Giorgio Vasari, author of “The Lives of the Most Famous Painters” wrote: “[Pollaioulo] dissected many corpses to see the internal structure of the body. He was the first to show muscles according to the shape and layout of the figures. ”. At the beginning of the second half of the 15th century, artists were just beginning to be interested in the structure of the human body, and Antonio Pollaiuolo, a Florentine painter and sculptor, is today considered a precursor of such methodology. Soon after him, other artists began to carry out autopsies, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. His most famous engraving entitled “Naked Men Fight” has an eminently classicising style. To this day, the subject of the depicted scene has not been fully explained. The most frequently mentioned hypotheses include references to mythology , stories from the times of ancient Rome, athletic competitions with the participation of gladiators, aimed at celebrating the death of an outstanding individual. The characters presented in the graphics are captured in various poses and angles. As a result, their muscles are tense and exaggerated. Such a presentation, achieved with the help of the so-called the return strokes that can be obtained in pen and ink drawings made it possible to demonstrate the artist’s great knowledge of the anatomy and movement of the human body. The engraving could therefore also serve as a didactic aid for other artists.
Standing in the transept of the Milan cathedral, the statue of St. Bartholomew is the most famous work of the artist Marco d’Agrate. The apostle is depicted with his skin hanging over his shoulders and around his body, which at first glance looks like a scarf. Such a performance refers to his death as a martyr, extremely cruel, as he was skinned alive and then beheaded. A reference to his Christian faith is the Bible held in his left hand. The masterpiece is characterized by an extremely precise capture of the anatomy of the body and muscle structure. Perhaps the artist was familiar with the famous treatise on the anatomy of Andreas Vesalius, which appeared in Venice in 1553. An interesting fact is the inscription added to the pedestal of the sculpture with the following text: Non mi fece Prassitele, bensì Marco d’Agrate, characterized by the artist’s faith in his own skills comparable to himself a master from ancient times, Praxiteles.
The painting of Dutch master is the most popular work of modern art, combining the worlds of anatomy and painting. Painted at the request of the Amsterdam Surgeons Guild, it shows the eponymous Dr. Nicholaes Tulp, in the company of seven viewers, carrying out an autopsy of a man (Adriaan Arisza) who was executed on the same day. In the first half of the 17th century, dissections were carried out once a year, usually in winter, and were increasingly often made public. Over time, they were treated as performances comparable to a visit to a theater or an opera, therefore, apart from doctors and students, all interested parties participated in them after paying for inexpensive tickets. From a scientific point of view, the section presented by Rembrandt was not properly done because the autopsies always began with cuts to the stomach and chest. Here we are dealing with the anatomy of the human hand, and more precisely the mechanism of bending the fingers. In the lower right corner of the painting, an open book is visible, which is considered to be the anatomical treatise De Humani Corporis Fabrica, written by Andreas Vesalius. Rembrandt painted one more painting showing the human dissection – “Doctor Deyman’s Anatomy Lesson” which has not survived to present times.
The collection of the Royal Academy Schools in London includes a plaster cast by William Pink called Smugglerius showing the anatomy of a man captured in a pose referring to the famous Hellenistic sculpture of the Dying Gaul. Pink’s work is a replica of a bronze figure made in 1776 for the anatomist and physician William Hunter by the Italian sculptor Agostino Carlini. Its name was related to the body of a thief sentenced to death by hanging (en. Smuggler), which was skinned after the execution for educational purposes. The bandit who was executed in Tyburn was most likely one of the three criminals: James Langar, Robert Harley, or Edward George. Thus, these criminals accidentally and undoubtedly undeservedly (because of their profession) entered the annals of art history. Giving the Latin name to the sculpture meant that artists in the second half of the 18th century grasped the relationship between nature and art in reference to the desire to present the ideal from ancient times. Carlini’s work, and a later replica of Pink, were copied many times by successive generations of painting students. The most famous drawing showing the anatomical details of Smugglerius’ muscular body was made by William Linnel in 1840.
The picture was painted in 1814 for Napoleon’s sister Karolina Murat. Ingres was inspired by famous works of the Renaissance period, incl. Venus Girogione and Venus of Urbino by Titian, as well as from the portrait of Madame Récamier on the highway by Jacques-Louis David. Already at the first public presentation, Titan met with a negative opinions due to the artist’s disregard for anatomical realism. Critics have pointed out that the lady depicted on painting has two or three too many vertebrae (modern scientific research has proven that there are even five too many of these vertebrae) and that her spine curvature along with pelvic rotation is impossible to recreate in reality. The visual effect of excessive length of the Odalist’s torso is moving her head away from the pelvis. This impression is intensified by the fact that her left arm is shorter than the right one. In such an unusual depiction of the figure of a woman from the harem, combined with the indifferent expression of her face, the painter wanted to express the contrast between the body (a reference to the duties performed at the Sultan’s court) and the psyche (her thoughts and feelings related to the performance of the above-mentioned activities).
The sculpture of David is considered, next to the Vatican Pieta, the most famous work of Michelangelo. The statue, more than 5 meters high, was made of a single block of marble and initially stood in Piazza della Signiora in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In 1873, the sculpture was moved to the Academy Gallery for conservation, and a copy was placed in the main square of Florence in the early 20th century. The figure of David is shown in a counterpoint with a slightly bent torso. The body of the biblical king is muscular and has numerous blood vessels are clearly visible. The artist’s goal was to show the beauty of the human body with all its perfection, but both the hands and the head, judging their size, are somewhat unreal. In all its dimensions, the sculpture of David referred to ancient patterns, and above all to the sculpture of Doryphorus by Polykleitos. While working on it, Michelangelo used the knowledge of the anatomy of the human body, which he had acquired through the dissections carried out several years earlier in the monastery at the Santo Spirito church in Florence.
Picasso’s painting entitled “Maids and Avignon” became due to its innovative style the key to the world of modern art. This depiction popularized a new art movement in painting called cubism, of which the Spanish painter was one of the pionieers. The titular girls presented by Picasso are prostitutes from one of Barcelona’s streets. Presented in geometrical form, in various positions they look as if they were deformed. It is not about exposing beauty or ugliness, the dynamics of superimposed planes, intensified by the colors in shades of pink and red, rather evoke the impression of wildness and passion. Women’s faces resemble masks, as the artist was inspired by the works of old African and Iberian art. The departure from the centuries-old painting tradition is also manifested in the abandonment of the perspective and background. The human body will never look the same in modern art from now on. Along with this work, a new painting reality was created. Interestingly, in the preparatory sketches for “The Maidens of Avignon” there was a figure of a medical student holding a skull in his hands, which strengthened the allegorical dimension of the painting and referred to the symbols of vanitas.