OG Abel (Abel Izaguirre), “Love & Hate” (August 19, 2012), graphite on paper in LA Liber Amicorum / Graffiti Black Book (Los Angeles, 2012), Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Gift of Ed and Brandy Sweeney. (© OG Abel, all images courtesy Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles unless otherwise stated)

Before Andreas Vesalius published his landmark title on human anatomy, The Fabric of the Human Body, in 1543, it was a commonly held belief that men had one less rib than women. (As the biblical story goes, God made Eve from Adam’s rib, so the math checked out, at least for the pious.) In De Fabrica, as the book is popularly known, the Renaissance physician dismissed the theory as “clearly ridiculous” and went on to literally and figuratively dissect the human body in one of the most ambitious and influential medical texts of his epoch. It was also among the most intricately illustrated, with 200 woodcut prints based on Vesalius’s anatomical drawings made by Jan Stephan van Calcar, an apprentice of Titian.

Samuel van Hoogstraten, “Skeleton and Muscle Figure with a Laurel Crown,” etching in Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst, anders de zichtbaere werelt (Rotterdam, 1682), pl. A

It may be difficult for contemporary spectators to appreciate the impact such detailed renderings had on viewers multiple centuries ago. A forthcoming exhibition at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Flesh and Bones: The Art of Anatomy, aims to put the visual power of anatomical aesthetics in perspective. Opening next week, the show will feature 150 images of the human body from the 16th century to the present, many of them from the Getty’s own collections.

Tavares Strachan, “Robert” (2018), neon, Pyrex, transformers, and MDF box (courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

These include examples from early anatomical atlases by Vesalius as well as 18th-century physician Bernhard Siegfried Albinus, the first scientist to demonstrate the link between the vascular systems of the mother and the fetus; and lesser-known gems, including stereoscopic photographs, paper-flap constructions, and a 200-year-old pocket-sized anatomy book for artists. Life-sized illustrations by Antonio Cattani, rendered in 1780 after works by the Late Baroque painter Ercole Lelli, will join Neo-Dadaist Robert Rauschenberg’s nearly six-foot-high lithograph and screenprint self-portrait “Booster” (1967).

Antonio Cattani, “Écorché Figure, Seen from the Front” (1780), etching and engraving, printed from five plates on five sheets of paper, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2014.PR.17)

Monique Kornell, a scholar of anatomical book illustration and the exhibition’s curator, organized Flesh and Bones and its accompanying publication into six thematic subjects: Anatomy for Artists; Anatomy and the Antique; Lifesize; Surface Anatomy; Three Dimensionality, and The Living Dead.

The final category includes strikingly animated depictions of skeletons and anatomized cadavers, such as artist Tavares Strachan’s neon installation “Robert” (2018), featuring an ethereally levitating skeleton that flickers as though blood pulsed through its veins. The piece memorializes Major Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., the first Black American astronaut, who died during a training accident in 1967, while emphasizing the universality of the human body.

Flesh and Bones celebrates the connection between art and science and the role of art in learning,” Mary Miller, director of the Getty Research Institute, said in a statement.

“This exhibition draws on the Getty Research Institute’s rich and varied holdings to tell the story of two disciplines that have long been intertwined,” she added. “I believe visitors will find meaningful connections with the way artists and scientists have inspired one another for centuries.”

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