Anatomy for artists


Have you ever thought about the links between art and studying dead bodies and old bones? During the Renaissance, artists were less squeamish: they collaborated with anatomists dissecting corpses to gain a deeper understanding of how the body worked. Through their observations, artists learnt skills in figure drawing and were able to achieve a more accurate portrayal of the bodies of both humans and animals. They produced sculptures or images of the body that often combined an artistic vision with medical knowledge.


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Skeletons and images of the muscles underlying the surface of the body were shown in these drawings as living figures, often in classical pose. For many artists, drawing human anatomy was seen as part of their academic study or as preparation for finished work. Up until the mid-twentieth century, the study of anatomy was an essential requirement at Birmingham School of Art. We've just installed an exhibition of work by students during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that illustrates how they were encouraged to follow the conventions of Ancient Greek sculpture with its emphasis on muscular bodies displayed as if they were sculptures. 

A similar approach was taken with animals in that drawing their anatomy was regarded as preparation for finished work. One of the most popular subjects was the horse. In the display case at the foot of the stairs at Parkside is a copy of the animal painter George Stubbs's publication The Anatomy of the Horse (1766), which shows detailed engravings of a dissected horse that reveals its muscles and skeleton. Stubbs’s studies enabled him to better capture the animal's physique and grandeur in his paintings. 

Why not come and see the exhibition for yourself?