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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Framing a shifting paradigm : art and anatomy in the early modern era Jansen, Judy


My thesis examines for the first time the extraordinary relationship among the frontispieces and illustrations of three mid-sixteenth century anatomical texts: Andreas Vesalius’ famous 1543 De humani corporis fabrica, hereinafter “Fabrica;” Juan Valverde’s 1556 Historia de la composicion del cuorpo humano, hereinafter “Historia;” and Realdo Columbo’s 1559 De re Anatomica. These frontispieces enact a sequential, dialogic – and most importantly – visual exchange of contemporary, interpenetrating debates on anatomical science, art practice, and art theory. They stage a contest, paregone, between Michelangelo and Titian, art and science, image and text and different modes of producing and framing knowledge. Vesalius’ paradigm shift in anatomical science required direct observation of the human body’s interior structures and their accurate, systematized, visual representation. Anatomy’s demands for precise visual depiction collided with sixteenth century Italian ideology that perceived the body as the pinnacle of creation and portrayed it in a classical, idealizing mode. Vesalius’ and Valverde’s insistence that their anatomical illustrations serve different visual constituencies – physicians, anatomists and artists; audiences with conflicting visual demands, posed unprecedented problems of presentation. These frontispieces and illustrations expose the graphical processes underpinning a new visual paradigm forged to meet these diverse, conflicting representational requirements. Combining new visual conventions developed to illustrate machines in the emerging genre of engineering treatises, innovative drawing techniques appropriated from art practice, and fine art practice’s classicized human form, generated the animated cadavers that strut and gesture across the pages of these works creating a template for anatomical illustration that persisted for centuries. These frontispieces’ oppositional iconographic systems, encoded visual vocabularies, and emblems reveal the contemporary taste for deciphering visual puzzles, opening a portal into the mid-sixteenth century visual imagination. Inscribing an extended, witty, historiography of the origins of a new visual paradigm plundered from fragments of Raphael’s, Michelangelo’s and Titian’s most celebrated works; works whose own pillaging from classical art they expose, these frontispieces and illustrations peel away layers of artistic artifice to reveal the means of their own representation and its limitations.

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