In the beginning was the closed body


The closed body

[1] [2]   [3]  [4]  [5]  [6]  [7]

The sign of blood mostly meant death, well into the 17th/18th century.[8] And in most religions, the body became the temple of the soul. So, it would be a blasphemous or a holy ritual to open it. You can see a depiction of the sense of power and wonder that accompanies the opening of the human body in the first illustration from 1523 (PIC1 – a radiant light of wonder).
But first the opening of the body meant pain and death and was mostly unbelievable and forbidden. (PIC2 – desecration of a grave by an anatomist) Surgical practice in medicine involved immense suffering until the introduction of anaesthetics in 1840s brought more effective chemicals for reducing pain. And until Rontgen discovered the X-radiation in 1895 (PIC3 – Rontgen’s wife’s hand) it always meant a certain amount of harm (PIC4 – cut off skin).

Apart from opened, suffering people, the early access came about only through the engagement with bones. (PIC5 – early commented illustration) That brought a strong connection between anatomy and death with it. This connected the special interpretation and art style of the Danse Macabre (PIC6 – death looks at anatomy) to the inner body. And the association continued in art anatomy even as it waned in medical texts.[9] And it persists in human association: When Roentgen’s first accidental x-ray scanned and depicted the hand of his wife in 1895, she supposedly said she have seen her own death because she saw her skeleton. [10]

Today the biggest comprehensional and moral borders appear to have been overcome, when we look at the today’s extreme of body openings with “human bodies – the exhibition”[11], where preserved human bodies are not simply displayed, but in natural poses that gives an extra “experience” to the exhibits (PIC7).


The Living Body

[12] [13]  [14] [15] [16] [17]

In the anatomy book “De humani corporis fabrica” of 1543, Andreas Vesalius depicted highly detailed versions of body interiors. It is interesting to see his human figures, like the one depicted above (PIC1), move like they were still alive. Vesalius was one of the first to conclude that the human must be dissected, that animals are not enough! [18] To see and depict the living inner body promised to understand its structures and functions and sense much better.

Although anatomy was a science of researching the dead matter for a long time, the man always put a lot of living moving things in it. Therefore, the inner body was always a living inner body.
In Hindu Yogic, Shakta, Buddhist Tantric traditions and many other doctrines, the body contains chakra, moving energy you can feel and actively lead (PIC2). And the temples, the origins of the different chakras, are located at precise places in your body. The (central chakra, the) heart chakra is even named after an organ.
And even after it was already common to see the “real” things move in it; it was a common method to explain the body interior by leaving or putting “extra” life in it. PIC3 is an early example by the nature scientist and visionary Fritz Kahn I will introduce at the end of this chapter.

Rontgen’s x-ray was the first real time photographic anatomy depiction without any harm. Today we have techniques like tomographic (PIC4) and ultrasound screening (PIC5). These depictions are highly technical, but still, we automatically interpret them in certain ways. Rontgen’s blurry photograph transports an eerie atmosphere that fits the depiction of the skeleton hand, and the many different colours that the shape of a moving brain scan has can be connected to our abstract world of thoughts.


[1] Jacopo Berengario da Carpi (author), Isagoge breves perlucide ac uberime, in anatomiam humani corpis…, 1535, plate of. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomie[…] full link in 6. Sources

[2] Jacques Bénigne Winslow (author), A grave robber flees from a corpse that has come to life, 1746. In Michael Sappol, Dream Anatomy, 2006

[3] Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, Röntgen x-ray of his wife’s hand, 1895. Retrieved from

[4] Andreas Vesalius (anatomist, artist), De humani corporis fabric, 1543, plate of. Retrieved from http://faculty.fullerton.edu/cmcconnell/302A/Anatomy.html

[5] Hans von Gersdorff. Feldtbüch der Wundartzney: newlich getruckt und gebessert, 1528. In: Sappol, Dream Anatomy, 2006

[6] Berengario (author), Hugo da Carpi (artist), Isagoge breves…, 1523. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/berengario_home.html

[7] Shannon Stapleton, Photograph of exhibit of the exhibition “Bodies” in New York, 2005. Retrieved from
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/151011-medicine-crucifixion[…] full link in 6. Sources

[8] Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies: The Human Body, Its Parts and the Stories They Tell, trans. Christophe Fricker, 2013, 187

[9] Michael Sappol, Dream Anatomy, 2006

[10] Frank Patalong, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen: Das Leiden der Strahlen-Pioniere, Spiegel Online, 12. November, 2015 (2:44 pm). Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/einestages/wilhelm[…] full link in 6. Sources

[11] Human Bodies, Human Bodies – The Exhibition website, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.humanbodies.eu/en/the-exhibition/

[12] Vesalius, fabrica, 1543, Plate of. Retrieved from

[13] Johann Georg Gichtel, Theospophia Practica, 1696, colour chart. Retrieved from https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Georg_Gichtel#/media/File:Theosophia_Practica_-_Gichtel.jpg

[14] Fritz Kahn, How dessert cleans the tongue, 1943. Retrieved from

[15] See [3]

[16] pwhlewis@gmail.com, 22. July, 2014, “Never, never, never give up”, The Stand Blog, Figure 3. Retrieved from

[17] Corinna Calls Ramsay, 5. February, 2008, “Baby Ramsay – Zweiter Ultraschall”, Ein Breitengrad verbindet Blog, Figure 2. Retrieved from

[18] Rosse, Danielle, Human Anatomy and Medicine Documentary, Filmed March 2016, YouTube video, 00:45-2:22. Posted March 2013. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inGf8Irjl_w