Interlude: Medical Visual

Albinus Tabulae sceleti et musculorum

Table 8, Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani (1747) Anatomist: Bernard Siegfried Albinus (1697-1770) Artist: Jan Wandelaar (1690-1759)

Excuse me, your exquisitely detailed skeleton is blocking my view of the rhinoceros.

Albinus and Wandelaar are by far my favorite duo of anatomist and artist. When the Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani was published in 1747 there was a lot of controversy over the illustrations because of the artistry and use of fanciful irrelevant backgrounds. It was nearing the end of the era where art heavily influenced anatomical illustrations. There began a shift away from the use of fanciful landscapes towards a more accurate representation of anatomy. There was a need to make the anatomy itself beautiful and captivating. Critics of Albinus said that the superfluous elements in the illustrations compromised the accuracy of the anatomy. But, Albinus stuck behind his artist and denounced those critical of his illustrations.

Apart from the whimsical scenery in the illustrations, the anatomy was quite accurate. Albinus and Wandelaar accomplished this by devising a grid system in which nets where set up and placed between the artist and the cadaver. Wandelaar would then draw what he saw in each grid thereby ensuring proportionality and accuracy. Still I wonder why the rhino?



10 thoughts on “Interlude: Medical Visual”

  1. I was in Dublin about 12 years ago and came across 2 engravings in a small shop just off Grafton Street -one frontal and one rear view- I did not buy them as they were framed and rather big and I could not see bringing them on the plane home- regretting it ever since of course. Finally after years of searching came across these- they are very similar- but both the human AND rhino were both down to the musculature…does anyone know if this was one of the engravings in the book- or did I stumble on a contemporary (excellent and absolutely the equal)take on these?

  2. While looking for illustrations of the skeletal system for a class I’m teaching to children on anatomy, I came across this site and noticed the picture with the rhino. An original copy of it is currently displayed at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA in an exhibit on the history of science. They’ve also digitized it so you can zoom in and look at the detail on a computer screen. We go often, and it’s the first thing my 5 year old son runs to! Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the LA area.

  3. i am not involved in medical illustration or illustration in general, but does anyone know who the artist used in the opening them of house m.d. is? one particular picture of a 3 d skull will about a quarter out of the skull and brain… i apologize if it is obvious, but i can’t seem to find many clues in about 1.5 hours of searching. it seems amazingly detailed and is not in color.


  4. The rhino’s name is Clara, and a reading of Glynis Ridley’s book “Clara’s Grand Tour” will explain why she came to feature in these anatomical illustrations.

  5. Bioephemera– That is so interesting about rhino’s being a trendy subject during that period. Do you remember where you might have read that?
    Personally I love these types of fanciful backgrounds. They work well for the sake of representing the anatomy as art. In one of my figure drawing courses, our instructor had us copy these images because they reflected the poses used by figure drawing models. Once you understand the underlying anatomy, figure drawing becomes easier.

  6. Ah. I hadn’t noticed the others, which were easier to dismiss as weird shadings (well, most of them). Thanks.

  7. Darby – there are number of deep muscles still in place on this skeleton, that’s why it looks like there’s “extra” stuff.

  8. I love Albinus, but I didn’t know about the grid system. Interesting!

    I seem to remember reading that a few years before publication, when they were working on the plates, the very first live rhino specimen arrived in Europe, so rhinos were a trendy subject (and convenient model). Not sure about that, though. 🙂

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