Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

En-Gendering Exemplarity in Early Modern Anatomical Illustration and the Fine Arts: Dis- and Dys-Identifications of the Anatomical/pictorial Model as Male

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

En-Gendering Exemplarity in Early Modern Anatomical Illustration and the Fine Arts: Dis- and Dys-Identifications of the Anatomical/pictorial Model as Male

Article excerpt

Sixteenth-century anatomy books - e.g. Andreas Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Basel, 1543), Charles Estienne's De dissectione partium corporis humani (Paris, 1545) and Juan Valverde de Hamusco's Historia de la composición del cuerpo humano (Rome, 1556) - testify to the early modem belief in the scientific salience of the physician's direct engagement with human dissection ('anatomy') as the true grounding of any medical knowledge of the human body. By comparing anatomical illustration with cognate representations in the contemporary fine arts I aim to address the ideological underside of the early modem anatomical project, with its intertwined 'en-gendering' (Teresa de Lauretis) of anatomical universality and heroism/exemplarity as male. My provisional results suggest the silencing of alternative, female, models of exemplarity lest the patriarchal grounding of the Renaissance confidence in the 'newly reborn man' be shaken, a silencing whose ideological ramifications extend to the present.

This investigation draws upon the theoretical insights of a collective volume, The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence: simply stated, representations of violence conceal their violence of representing subject and object positions.1 In the case of early modem anatomy, not only is the physical violence against the admittedly dead body downplayed, but the condition of the very subjects of dissection is altered beyond (self-)recognition, with consequences for the advent of the early modem autoptic vision (in Jonathan Sawday's terms)2 W. B. Gudykunst (ed.), and its impact on the collective imaginary.

1. En-Gendering the Subject for Anatomy in Early Modernity: From the Classical Body to Female Promiscuity and the Male Subject of Penology

Early modem anatomy book illustration seemingly represents the human body as a fully-fledged subject, though this can hardly be deemed one in the agentive sense dear to Western epistemology, considering both the oddity of re-morphing its dead condition to lively poses, and especially, as Sawday (1) wryly observes, the 'violent "reduction" into parts' which anatomisation is. Despite their typically humble social origins,3 the subjects of early modem anatomy are often featured in socially elevated postures, or socially neutral at best, yet classically beautiful.4 A pictorial convention which draws upon the Belvedere torso to model the bidimensional image sculptural is already apparent in Vesalius: his Fabrica inaugurated the tradition of the limb cross-section fashioned as ruptured classical marble statue limbs (Vesalius 465, 478, 559; cf. Valverde 108). As I show in 'The Time Is out of Joint' (11), Gérard de Lairesse's 'portraiture' in Govard Bidloo's Anatomía humani corporis (Amsterdam, 1685) and its Dutch translation, Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams (1690), evokes a classical past of corporeal harmony rather than musculature proper: plates 1 (male) and 2-3 (female) show the body in postures reminiscent respectively of Apollo Belvedere and Venus púdica Capitolina (but for the ancient Venus's modest gesture). Elsewhere the flap of a stripped muscle, often juxtaposed with exuberant poses (Vesalius5187; Casserio, plates 15, 16; Browne,6 fol. 91 tab. 14), can obliterate the écorché's anatomised condition to render him/her a playful participant in the autoptic game. Such images intimate that the anatomist's/artist's penetrating gaze un-covers the body beautiful - though, in practical terms, not for the medical students' benefit; they moreover transmute the reality of dissection and of the subjects' possibly diseased bodies into classically beautiful and healthy-looking exemplars. Anatomy - as both dissection and the 'body-as-knowledge' (Wilson 63)7had never been so tamed as to enthrall the curious yet occlude the reality of death and dissection in order to achieve its epistemological aim: identifying and then introducing 'general anatomical and physiological principles' (Park 7) to the public. …

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