JF Ptak Science Books Post 1478
I've been making a few entries over the last few days on antiquarian anatomy books, and wonder now about books in anatomies. I'm not certain what the appeal is, but it has a strange and immediate affinity for me to bridges in pre- and early Impressionism, a direct line to these bridges and to the other technological and engineering entities that were depicted in these canvases. I'm not sure what the connection is to the two outside of the obvious verb-y part of "bridge", but there seems to be an innate connection between the two, for me. Somehow the book shouldn't be of interest to the lifeless and dissected cadaver, but it is, and images of the two together turn up here and there in the history of anatomical illustration. As much as the anatomist and artist work together to try to remove their subject from the confines of a book so that their work is freer and more accessible to the reader, to remove the illustrations from the pages of the book in which they appear, they do sometimes employ the image of the book to make a more prosaic and allegorical point.And as the object of design and wonder and beautiful geometry, one might think of the bridge as a object in Impressionist paintings from that movement's earliest periods would be not quite the sort of thing that would be the subject of as many paintings as they were. The unnatural angles of their supplementary parts seem to make them not quite the fit for the early Impressionists. But they were, and probably so for their 90-degree assaults on the natural landscape.
Perhaps what I think of the aesthetics of the treatment of bridges during the Renaissance, and the adoration of the Rialto and Pone Vecchio and all the rest, just wouldn't make their way to the Impressionists' canvases. But of course basically most ot them did paint bridges--Seurat, Cezanne, Van Gogh (a fantastic, small stone-and-wood miniature drawbridge), Derain, Pissarro, Renoir (the Pont-Neuf), Marquet, Sisley and of course and perhaps most famously, Monet (Charing Cross, Giverny, and all the rest)--all painted bridges. I guess the bridge is just a shorthand for the representation of engineering and technology in general in Impressionism, which to my eye seems quite strong.
But getting back to books in anatomies:
Govard Bidloo approached the issue of the book in a most unusual fashion, making it appear as though the dissected hand and forearm were emerging from a semi-opened book, the long index finger coming to a pointing pose, suggesting perhaps that the viewer take heed of what is contained in the work. The image appers in Bidloo's Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams (or Anatomia Humani Corporis) and was printed in Amsterdam (at what may have been the pinnacle decade of Dutch book publishing) in 1690; the book was illustrated by Gerard de Lairesse (1640-1711), a leading light in the Golden Age of Dutch painting, and perhaps one of the most famous painters alive there after the death of Rembrandt. There's all manner of symbolism going on here, but what I like the most is the little crutch under the cadaver's hand's thumb.
Jacques Gamelin's Nouveau reueil d'osteologie et de myologie, dessine d'apres nature (1779) places skeleton and books togehter again, though this time their can be little doubt about the overall message that the designer and author tried to send to their readers.
Int he long run, and I guess in the short run as well, neither the bridge in Impressionism nor the book in anatomies is quite so much out-of-place as they are simply unexpected.
Van Gogh's bridge at Arles--not an essential image whatsoever for this post--I just like the bridge. Van Gogh painted the bridge four times in oil and once in watercolor, all in a very short time. (His stay at Arles was about 444 days, during which he made about 200 paintings, being some of his greatest work.