Health Institute Puts Viscera-Manikins on Parade

He says that the thigh rash is the worst part.

Old medical illustrations come in many flavors. Beautiful, cialis hilarious, grotesque – there’s a taste of each at NIH’s Historical Anatomies on the Web. Some 18th-century Persian illustrations peel back the subject’s skins to reveal a bright red reverse, which, coupled with the gold bracelets and the multicolored organs, gives the appearance elaborate stage costumes. A medieval battlefield surgery manual (with a very dramatic cover!) shares some tips on limb amputation. An anatomical horse prances in a field under a sky filled with flowers.  A 17th-century Persian depiction of bloodletting and venous figures reminds me of Daniel Johnston. Anime-sized gory eyes (what is even going on here?) stare at you from the pages of the Kaitai shinsho, a book illustrated by the Dutch and published in Japan. And the axe-murderer-style uterus illustrations will send chills down your spine. So… who’s hungry?


8 Responses to “Health Institute Puts Viscera-Manikins on Parade”

  1. David Forbes Says:

    So… who’s hungry?

    Me! Let’s all go for ribs!

    In all seriousness, those are amazing, the Persian one especially. Though I think the medieval surgery cover might be my favorite. The wounds were so grievous not even the ruffles on his pants could save him.

  2. john colby Says:

    there a section on the text in James Burkes ” the day the Universe changed” Book/tv show. they re-enact some of it.

  3. Joseph Francis Says:

    “He says the thigh rash is the worst part”


  4. rickie Says:

    i actually really enjoy drawing grotesque body parts. i am a little envious of the lower torso artist.

  5. Tequila Says:

    Some of these had to have been the equivalent of a slasher/gore film for people beyond the medical trade. The book you sneak around and show to friends after a long day in whatever medieval job drove one to say “Now wouldn’t you want to do THIS to our Lord?”

    Beautiful illustrations. I like the ones that show the more intricate or abstract parts of the body. Some look almost like flowers yet to bloom and others like weird alien things found in the sea. Kind of a shame we don’t have many books like this around anymore…they’re so academic and proper now that some of the magic & mystery is lost.

  6. David Forbes Says:

    Tequila: You’ve got an excellent point there and it does bring into sharp relief how bloody (literally) weird the human body looks on the inside.

    I can only imagine how shocking it must have been to a medieval/early Renaissance mindset to get a first glimpse of this stuff, when there were no popular depictions of guts, a taboo against dissection and widespread illiteracy. It would seem to be the visual equivalent of the average reaction to first hearing gunpowder: shock at having one’s worldview changed so radically.

    On a side note, as recently as the late 1800s gangs of medical students at universities used to go grave-robbing. When they were caught, the public response from their academic superiors usually ran something along the lines of: “Well what do you expect? Give us corpses or we’ll keep stealing them.”

  7. dirtynorth Says:

    those axe murderer style illustrations are by a guy named william hunter. he helped revolutionize obstetrics back in the 1730’s. his fetal atlases are frigging amazing. the engravings were done life size. if you want to see more of this kind of stuff you should really get your hands on a copy of a book called human anatomy by rifkin and ackerman.

  8. Nadya Says:

    dirtynorth: Thanks for the tip!