Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

CHAPTER 7: The Wondrous Book of the Human Brain in 3-Dimensions

Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

CHAPTER 7: The Wondrous Book of the Human Brain in 3-Dimensions

Article excerpt

We can deduce by all that has been said that the fantasy or the imagination is in itself nothing other than that wondrous book of the human brain in which are imprinted both intellectual notions as well as images of sensible objects collected by the sense and transmitted by means of the animal spirits through those most subtle channels of the nerves that carry them all the way to the market place of the brain.

pope benedict xiv, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione (1738)

Visualizing the Body

Écorchés (Fig. 31) are figures that are drawn, painted, or sculpted to show the muscles of the body without skin. A common tool in anatomical study, these models are among the various modeling techniques that have aided artists in visualizing and creating compelling naturalistic representations of the human form. Just as visual thinking is at the core of neurobiological thought, écorchés were long lauded as a means to help artists develop a sense of human form. Earlier chapters introduced many two-dimensional examples of representations that showed how neuroscientists employed visual commentary, with Leonardo's use of wax casts and glass models providing a notable exception. As noted earlier, Leonardo's inventive mind benefitted from his art training. In his case, when wax modeling was combined with his dissection studies Leonardo was able to perceive form and structure even before the development of chemical preservation techniques alleviated the problem of brain deterioration in scientific laboratories. This novel solution allowed Leonardo to more fully engage with the challenge of understanding structure and dynamics in tandem - and thus his work surpassed the insights of the clinicians of his time. Leonardo's work further reminds us that when the interest in naturalism took hold, artists increasingly saw the value of three-dimensional modeling. Eventually anatomists, natural philosophers, and others found two and threedimensional approaches facilitated them in comparably perceiving the body and the brain.

Overall the naturalistic goal was elevated within the Renaissance program in general. Indeed, the Renaissance architect and theorist, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) recommended that when a painter desired to depict a nude, he should first arrange the muscles and bones, and then "choose" a nice skin to go with them. Later, Vesalius' fourteen muscle-men in book two of the Fabrica, (Fig. 32), although two-dimensional, demonstrated how life-like the flayed figures can appear. Even here, the degree to which the exposed muscles convey a sense of three-dimensionality is impressive. These images are additionally eloquent in expressing how to perceive what is illustrated anatomically:

The underlying method of book two is simple enough. Two factors have changed between one plate and the next: progressively deeper structures have been revealed by the removal of the overlying tissues; and the threedimensional relationships of the various parts have been clarified by the ingeniously controlled changes of pose. Vesalius's system is beautifully economical. In co-operation with his draughtsman, he has brilliantly been able to reconcile his wish not to tax the reader with an excessive number of plates with an amazingly fluent and complete description of human musculature, from various aspects and according to the attachments of each muscle (Kemp 1970: 281).

European medical academies began to integrate écorchés of all sorts into their studies during the 17th and 18th century, especially when there was a lack of bodies available for dissections. Flayed figures were commonly made out of a range of materials including bronze, ivory, plaster, wax, or wood works. These options could effectively stand in for actual bodies because of their capacity to expose the layers of muscles and reveal the skeleton of the model. Students and educators similarly found that mixing two-dimensional and three-dimensional models aided in understanding how to abstract a form. …

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