Modern History of Science
The Body Reimagined
Around 1470, in an abrupt shift, depictions of the human body changed from the delineative approach of Fra Angelico, Masaccio, and Piero della Francesca to the more naturalistic works of Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo, who began representing the human form in a more anatomically precise way. Likewise in anatomy and medicine, depictions of the human body shifted at this time from the medieval approach to Leonardo’s anatomical folios (produced between c. 1485 and 1513) and, eventually, those in Andreas Vesalius De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, 1543). What happened during this remarkable transition? And what caused the shift in the first place? My research addresses these questions by looking at how the aforementioned discontinuity signaled a new kind of professional relationship—one among artists, anatomists, and early modern editors. This collaboration was deeply intertwined: artists, seeking to continue a process of intellectual and social ascent that began with the development of linear perspective in the early fifteenth century, connected with physicians in order to produce accurate artistic renderings of the human body and, in a sense, also to gain higher commissions. For their part, physicians looked to artists to illustrate their textbooks after the advent of printmaking. This move revolutionized the means of arranging and presenting anatomical data, creating new models for the human body, while leading to the production of beautifully illustrated texts. From this perspective, early modern editors represented a triggering force in shaping this story, making the new technologies offered by the press accessible to these groups. My goal is to produce an illustrated journey through Renaissance ateliers and medical practices, unveiling how early modern artists, doctors, and the press eventually merged their approaches into the creation of a new way of understanding the human body.