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Boundaries of the Body: The Art of Anatomy in the Seventeenth-Century Netherlands


Investigating the contents of art treatises, anatomical atlases and collections in the seventeenth-century Netherlands, my dissertation argues that anatomists adapted artists’ techniques and devices to proclaim the author’s authority, mediate the perception of the viewer, and encourage disciplinary boundaries between art and medicine. Contrary to anatomists’ written comments, which often dismiss the role of the artist, anatomical prints, drawings, and prepared specimens rely on pictorial practice to produce knowledge about the body. Through representative techniques, including trompe l’oeil, modeling, color, and drapery, viewers were convinced of anatomists’ discoveries. Pamphlets exchanged between physicians such as Frederik Ruysch and Govard Bidloo indicate that the persuasive power of these images and objects was also a cause for concern, particularly in its ability to deceive the viewer, and thus undermine the anatomist’s credibility. Introducing artists’ voices to this debate, I contend that painters also placed limits on their engagement with anatomy. In his art theoretical treatise, for example, Samuel van Hoogstraten writes that Jacob van der Gracht’s anatomical text for artists, “shows the way better for physicians, than for painters.” These comments indicate the shifting relationship between artists and anatomists at a moment when nature and artifice were viewed increasingly as separate entities.

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