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Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now

by Martin Kemp, Marina Wallace

Buy the book: Martin Kemp. Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now

Release Date: 06 November, 2000

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Martin Kemp. Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now

A spectacularly successful foray addressing Science and Art

In this extraordinarily interesting book, a catalogue that accompanied an exhibition in England in 1999 - 2000, the authors and curators present figurative painting and sculpting in a fresh and original fashion. Dipping into the engravings of Vesalius and the amazingly detailed wax recreations of anatomic dissections which populated Medical Schools for centuries, we are introduced to an art form that preceeded drawing from the model in the studio. Never meant to be "art", these dissection models were high science at the same time serving to "glorify the magnificence of God's creation of man". Whatever the initial inspiration, when placed side by side with the Renaissance paintings of the various anatomy lessons (such as the fmous Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp) from Rembrandt through the 19th century to the present day explorations by the likes of Bill Viola and Tony Oursler they serve to enhance our understanding and appreciation for our own bodies as corporal science and as vessels of art. What a fine exhibition this must have been! Fortunately the thought vested in this significant collaboration has been captured in time in the form of this beautifully illustrated and documented book. Only one complaint: Why was this luxurious volume printed only in paperback form? This is an art book worthy of any artist committed to the figure and to all of us who admire figurative painting, sculpture and the wonder of the human form.

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The art of dissection

This is one of the most fascinating art books to cross my path in some time. The subject is the artistic representation of human anatomy.

This is the occasion for a fascinating tour of curiosa. Of course, you have a sequence of Dutch and American anatomy theatre group portraits. More interesting is the sculptures in wax of dissection, surgical, and anatomical models, handmade by what were apparently a group of mostly Italian scupltors. A fellow named Clemente Susini was apparently the Michaelangelo of this field. What makes these interesting is that they are not, as in the -Gray's Anatomy- images, merely displayed. Many are dramatically posed, in the overdone, theatrical poses of baroque painting. The image of them gesticulating as they spill their guts is mildly disconcerting.

There is an extensive discussion of écorché figures, flayed figures that display skinless human musculature. Collections of skeletons and bones, often arranged dramatically rather than clinically, are also featured. There is a large selection of ethnological portraits, and photographs of the insane.

The text is largely sympathetic to these forgotten creators who sought to combine art and science. Identity politics and post-structuralist hoodoo intrudes only slightly on the text, much less than you'd fear given these subjects. A fascinating book for those who are not easily disturbed.

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