JF Ptak Science Books Post 1360
Looking at old prints sometimes reveals more than just their own history, simple or not: there are, from time to time, subtle bits of otherness that creeps into the image, if you allow yourself the time to see it. And sometimes looking at images of the past reveal a little of the future, or the possibility of the future. A great example of this is William Rimmer’s (1816-1879) Art Anatomy, this edition published in 1877 (and about which I wrote earlier in this blog1).
The work reminds me of at least two touchpoints, one from art, the other literary. First and foremost, the added elements, the humanist touches and flairs (and I mean Humanist as in the 16th century variety) , the mytholigizing elements, the little designs that are added to the anatomical details
that run throughout the course of the work, remind me of the work of the Dadaists that would come forty years later. As will be seen below, there really isn't much necessity for all of the added extras, the fabulous add-ons, that Rimmer incorporates in this work. This part of the work definitely has an antiquarian flavor to it, the major anatomies of the 16th and even into te 17th century having a pronounced artistic flavor to them.
In a more removed sense, I get a heavy dose of memory of Marcel Proust from the Rimmer images. In a sense, Rimmer is trying to affect change, an instability, into the most common and stable presentations in art, human anatomy. There is a strong his history of presenting anatomy in an artistic format--Vesalius is one famous example--where skeletons are posed reading books, or holding their skin or contemplating a(nother) skull--but not so much past the late 17th century. Though very few of the "decorated" anatomies have ever taken their artistic license quote so fabulously as Rimmer. And Proust I think is a Great Destabilizer--he works very hard to push the center of gravity away from where it should be on just about everything. He drags himself to the proposition at hand, to the memory, to the situation, and though all of his great personal destabilizers--his allegeries, his allegeries to the things that he loves, his allergies to his allergies, his vast catalog of physical complaints, his pale melancholia, his fits, his spectacular memory, his ability to see differently, and on and on, all seemed to coalescence into a colossal ability to see even the smallest detail outside of its small details. Perhaps this is a stretch, but that is the literary sense-impression I have from Rimmer.
1. For some reason I never included any of the images available for sale in my blog bookstore--though now I have.