.2. The Heritage – The Closed Body

How was and is the body depicted and why?
What is our visual body heritage?
What are the different streams?


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.




The Mind-Body Connection

The archive of body depictions I will show and classify in this chapter reach from the antiquity to the presence – from the times when Aristotle wrote “The Metaphysics” from which later on the above-noted, famous sentence emerged, that can also be  transferred into “The Body is more than the sum of its parts” and that is a mark for the mind-body duality (HEAD / BODY) – over the time when the discovery of the blood cycle marked the transition from the heart focused to the head focused body[3] (HEART / HEAD) – to the present times of moving interactive cell animations (HEAD / EYES).  
The different streams

I will take up a few facts and discoveries, regarding its theory state (the medical approach), the more abstract metaphysical statement (cultural construction approach) and the visual elaboration (the artistic approach). These I formed out of a mind-map I constructed out of keywords I encountered on my way:

The Timeline

When we look at the visual development of inner body depictions in a linear timeline research we can get easily confused, because history is multithreaded and of course NOT linear. So, it is more effective to order after main characteristics, so suddenly depictions of the antiquity stand next to those of modernism…

Clashing and Merging

Like you will see, the body visualisations combine art, science, spirit, matter, life and death that are permanent clashing and merging (see image [PIC] – Here you see all together in harmony in 1687). And all gain a part of their power out of the reason that the body interior cannot be absolutely defined.


[1] Free after Aristotle, The Metaphysics, trans. John H. McMahon, 2007, book 8

[2] Ursus Wehrli, Die Kunst, Aufzuräumen, 2011, part of the inside cover. Retrieved from

[3] Fay Bound Alberti, Matters of the Heart: History, Medicine, and Emotion, 2010, 39

[4] John Browne (anatomist), Myographia nova…, 1687, frontpiece. Retrieved from



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



More Projections


Micro- and macrocosms

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

Let’s shortly go back in time again and look at the depictions of various known things and phenomenons people projected into the human body – that was not explored at all – to give “sense” to it: Here micro- and macrocosms play a crucial role. Theories and interpretations about what is and is going on in your body and the connection between its parts, have a long history and take partially strange and chaotic shapes and weird chapters and anecdotes.

In his Metaphysics Plato said the human shall be a scaled-down reproduction of the universe. The macrocosm, the world order on a large scale, corresponds to the microcosm of the human body.[7] In the shown illustration, out of the first so called “anatomy book” (PIC1), you see the body parts corresponding to stellar constellations – from Aries for the head, to Pisces for the feet. We often see big natural phenomenons reflected in the borders of the body organism. For example, in PIC2 out of the first anatomy book by Frederic Ruysch, there are plants resembling organs.

With the time the body interior gained more and more space with zooming techniques, depth creating art techniques and all the different functions that were explored. So, projections from e.g. the zodiac signs (PIC1) made way for trees created by flesh, muscles and veins (PIC2).  Those were followed by skin landscapes created by cells (PIC3). And they themselves made way for an animation that zooms out to the milky way (?) so that it can afterwards also zoom onto a subatomic level (?) in an almost photorealistic way(PIC4). So, we automatically find similarities in it, the biggest projected into the most filigree structures.

A special version of a world projected into the body I found in 1656, in the time of the seafarers and discoverers (PIC5 – four anatomists look on a “body map”).  Here the body interior is depicted as one of those “new worlds”! Maybe still a holy land, but on its way to get completely conquered like the globe that is enthroned on top of the image.
It is the perception of the body as “territory”, that we can explore, develop and conquer, like Aldersey-Williams points out in his book “Anatomies: The Human Body, Its Parts and the Stories They Tell”.[8]
In the news, we still get confronted with a lot of scientists that want to make a name for themselves.
And also today, where almost every particle of the body has its name, we still find this feeling of a new world in space ship journeys through the – by oneself – uncharted body (PIC6).



Cartography and Definitions – Hierarchy and Interaction

[9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

So, anatomy asserted itself as a science, and with definitions and theories there come generalisations and abstractions and of course misinterpretations.

Thus, it happens that the so called “first published book of anatomy” of 1491 gives concrete explanations of body parts, but also a drawing that brings together the parts with zodiac signs. But as a clear schematic it already has good qualities. (PIC1)

Vesalius, like Da Vinci one of the first practical explorers AND artists, tried to depict everything as exact and pure/natural as possible. (PIC2)

In the third illustration, of a book from around 1700, we already see organs, separated by clear different colours and with simplified shapes that show that they are to separate also in their medical function (PIC3).

With biology as a general common knowledge, and therewith also taught in schools, and the emergence of popular science, this style of “concentration on essentials” and more symbolic forms and colours gained more importance than realistic depictions in material and material colours. (PIC4)

Today’s schematics try to show and explain with simplified of basic forms (PIC5). But often depth and a certain surface is indicated to give the illusion of a real three-dimensional object. Like this it can be easier placed into the context, the body environment. And in education, where everything is kept even simpler, one illustration can already contain more graspable examples for abstract/chemical depictions (PIC5).


States, Cities

[14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]

The cartography of the body and the characterising of all its parts and their functions also two-way interacted with complete social systems and orders. Seen as one of the most natural but complex things and especially as a God-given thing, the body interior had a high status, and therefore credibility.

State: In the separated organs and its functions people soon put in a series of different hierarchic orders and argued with it. They were perfect analogies for certain groups of peoples (PIC1 – the political hierarchy after Salisbury in the 13th century). For example, in the antiquity the stomach resembled the plebs[21], later the market[22].
Medieval anatomists, and especially the social thinker De Mondeville, even tried to integrate the Passion of Christ back into the body, when describing the anatomical discovery of the syncope: Organs show mercy for each other; when one is injured. They show mercy. This resembles a collective society. [23]  Like this the Passion of Christ and a surgical discovery were connected. Outstanding here, was the heart, as the centre of the body and as the centre of the blood (PIC2).
Thomas Hobbes instead put the emphasis on the head when he presented his social criticism around the leviathan, a huge body stuffed with thousands of little people all looking up to the head.(PIC3)

City: And as a space with a clear defined wall, a closed system, it was also the perfect metaphor for the town. PIC4 shows the city of Zamosc that was built after the body’s structure. The market resembles the stomach, the church the heart and the palace the head.[24]  – It was used to reason city layouts)
And when we look at a photograph of a microscopic cell (PIC5), we immediately think of a city in top view. It shows characteristics that are also repeated in the body, of which it is itself a part. Here the wall can be pointed out (PIC6): It is crucial for the definition of a cell and a city, and can be easily transferred to the human skin that separates and protects the body from its environment.
And also Fritz Kahn used this powerful analogy in his “Zellenstaat” (PIC7 – cell state).


[1] Johannes de Ketham (author), Fasciculus medicinae. 1491. Part of. Retrieved from […] full link in 6. Sources

[2] Frederic Ruysch, Thesaurus anatomicus primus, 1701, Plate of. Retrieved from http://www.biusante.parisdescartes.fr […] chapitre, full link in 6. Sources

[3] Fritz Kahn, Travel experiences of a wandering cell: in the valley of a flesh wound, 1924. Retrieved from

[4] Charles and Ray Eames (directors), Powers of Ten, 1977, 6:44. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0

[5] Giulio Casserio (anatomist), Anatomische Tafeln…, 1656, Frontpiece. Retrieved from

[6] The Body VR, The Body VR website, 2017. Retrieved from http://thebodyvr.com/

[7] Gerhard Faden, Platons dialektische Phänomenologie, 2005, 137

[8] Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, 2013, 44-45

[9] See ^27

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

[11] Muhammed Arzani (author), Tibb al-Akbar (Akbar’s Medicine), 1722, Plate of. Retrieved from http://www.sitioandino.com.ar/n/93392/

[12] www.zcool.com.cn (artist), 3D icons Internal Organs vector, 2017. Retrieved from


[13] Paul Chesley. Indianer. 2010. In Horst Bayrhuber, Wolfgang Hauber und Ulrich Kull (publisher), Lindner Biologie. Lehrbuch für die Oberstufe, 2010, 159

[14] Johannes von Salisbury, Policratus (Oxford 1909), 13th century. In Sennett, Flesh and Stone, 211, Figure 1

[15] Bremond (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bremond ) (photographer), Christus offenbart Margareta Maria Alacoque (rechts) und Maria Droste zu Vischering sein Herz, 2008. Retrieved from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heiligstes_Herz_Jesu#/media/File:HerzJesu_mit_Droste_zu_Vischering_und_MMA.jpg

[16] Thomas Hobbes (author). The Leviathan of the matter, 1651. Retrieved from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolutismus#/media/File:Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes.jpg

[17] Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, Map Of Zamosc, ca. 1617. Retrieved from http://www.pbase.com/jolka/image/130444651

[18] N.a. (artist), Cell microscopy, N.d., N.s.

[19] Dr. Stephanie Swift, 13 February, 2013 (8:28), “Antibiotics hit your gut microbes hard”, Mmmbitesizescience Blog. 13 February, 2013, Figure 2, Antibiotics and gut microbes. Retrieved from

[20] Fritz Kahn (author), Georg Helbig (artist), Die Zelle, 1919, Figure 23, Kampf im Zellenstaat. Retrieved from

[21] Eva Kimminich, April 11, 2017, „Körpermetapher“, Universität Potsdam, Institut für Romanistik, Kulturen Romanischer Länder, 2017. Retrieved from

[22] Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, 2013, 46

[23] Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilzation, trans. Linda Meissner (Berlin: Berlin Verlag, 1995), 200, 208 ff

[24] Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, 2013, 46



Feeling at Home



[1] [2] [3] [4]

Despite all complex theories, material and technical sciences, the strongest human connection to his body will remain the individual. We want to identify with the functions going on in ourselves, feel alive or special and at home. And therefore, a strong analogy is the populated house, the home.

The earliest depiction with this theme I found in 1708 in a Hebrew encyclopaedia (PIC1). With the description of chakra centres as temples and the whole chakra being one unit, also the body turns into a temple, hosting a lively substance.

Around the 1930s, the natural scientist Fritz Kahn built a whole functioning industrial palace (PIC2) And, like we saw in previous paragraphs, he also populated many more individual places inside the human body with little homunculi and other life. Often his scenarios do not seem like comfortable homes. But for his time the machines and industry were modern and the homunculi working in it seem so professional in what they do that we feel save. We like to imagine our body operated by those little experts. Another example of the works created under his instructions is the human torso as aquarium, describing the water balance of the body (PIC4). It gives the body an elevation while just showing what is there plus implementing the obviously absurd. Like this and with the simple message that the body is an impressive entity he brings the wonder back into the body! For his time his works were visionary and still today they seem informative and enchanting, because they seem highly scientific and imaginative at the same time.


The Head

[5] [6] [7] [8]

In 1628 Harvey described the blood cycle and from this moment on the heart was a pump. Therewith, the whole interpretations of the bodies organisation, the body model, had to change crucial. For example, the state body metaphor got great support in the direction of equality and interactions. Also, this was the scientific transition from the cardio-centrical to the cranio-centrical body, so the medic Fay Bound Alberti.[9]

When we look at René Descartes visual description of a body-mind duality, we see that our visual organ, the eyes, shape a big amount of our reality. And they are, as simple as that, located in our head (PIC1).

So, in our head we were always primarily searching for our identity and sense, what may be the most personal of all anatomic research professions.

Around 1810 phrenologists tried to map the identity out of the skull. PIC2 shows the separation of the brain into 27 “organs”. The brain scan (PIC3) is the contemporary version of this approach. Maybe more precise, but regarding the depiction highly technical and without any artistic approach.

Fritz Kahn’s depiction of seeing and recognition seems more subjective than Descartes, with all the homunculi in it (PIC4). But it is also more functional. The metaphysic of philosophy is gone here. Instead Kahn implemented a transcendental level with the “fantasy-part” of his illustrations that suits the consumer of popular science. Like Uta von Debschitz points out in the book “Fritz Kahn”, he was always aware and anxious to leave a metaphysical gap in his illustrations and descriptions.[10]


In this archive of body interior depictions one can find a huge number of stories that are worth being illustrated and material to use and get inspired by. And many I will use to create my visual experience in the end:
The medical approach shows an evolution strongly connected to society structures. And there is a clear division of the body into organs. The metaphysical approach offers interesting stories regarding the mind-body relationship. Its essence may be the issue of micro-/macro-analogies. I will use all those themes in my design solution, creating story and settings with it.       
And the artistic approach will help me design, with the house analogy and many visual aesthetics as essences.
The research of this chapter may end with the escape into the head. But here we also like to indulge in our emotions and feels, and this is where the heart and the modern viewer come into play…


[1] Toviyah Kats (author), Ma’a’seh Tuviyya, 1708. Retrieved from

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

[3] Fritz Kahn, Der Mensch als Industriepalast, 1926. In Fritz Kahn, Das Leben des Menschen III, 1926, Poster-attachement. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/koerper-erklaerer-fritz-kahn-fotostrecke-106634.html

[4] Fritz Kahn, Das Leben des Menschen I, 1922, Man as aquarium. In Uta von Debschitz and Thilo von Debschitz, Fritz Kahn (TASCHEN GmbH, 2013), 141

[5] René Descartes (author), Gerard van Gutschoven (artist), Treatise on Man, 1664, Part of. Retrieved from

[6] Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Caspar Spurzheim, People’s Cyclopedia of Universal Knowlede, 1883, phrenology chart. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology#/media/File:PhrenologyPix.jpg

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

[8] Fritz Kahn, Das Leben des Menschen II, 1924, plate of, The five points in common between muscle operation and an electric doorbell circuit. Retrieved from http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/machine-head

[9] Alberti, Matters of the Heart, 2010, 39

[10] Uta von Debschitz and Thilo von Debschitz, Fritz Kahn, 2013, 21