JF Ptak Science Books Post 1493 [Thanks to Morbid Anatomy for surfacing this fantastic image!]
Part of this blog's series on Blank, Empty and Missing Things: the Skin.
The impact of the sciences in (on?) art has been a frequent visitor to this blog--the photographic work of Etienne Marey and the coming of the futurists, the structuring of the fourth dimension, the discovery of the microscopic world, and so on., are fantastically interesting events which at some time bear some responsibility in the history of art.
The artwork in question appeared in Jugend, Band 1, (February) 1896, and is called "Das Neue Strahlen", calling directly on the announcement just a few months earlier in 1895 of Roentgen's “Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen". The image depicts a young woman wearing a mask and clearly subjected to x-ray, as we see some parts of her clothing and beneath that the skeleton of her hips and legs, and within her rib cage we see a delicately drawn St. Valentine's Day-like heart.
It seems to me--and this is just working on long memory--that this is an extremely early application of the X-Ray in the art world. And while the anatomy is nothing new, the getting-to-the-anatomy is: for the first time in human history, it was possible to see the structure of a body without performing a dissection, and it is this advance that the artist is exhibiting. It is difficult to appreciate the impact of this advancement now--perhaps it would seem to people in 1895 something like a sudden announcement today that almost all surgery from this point forward is now accomplished with nanobots or a biological robotic element or whatever and which would eliminate virtually all previous complications of cut-and-stitch operations. Monumental. It was something like that for Roentgen's discovery in 1895.
In 1895 50-year-old Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s ephochal discovery was announced (“Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen", "On a New Type of Ray"), which built upon the work of J. Plucker (1801-1868), J. W. Hittorf (1824-1914), C. F. Varley (1828-1883), E. Goldstein (1850-1931), Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), H. Hertz (1857-1894) and the horribly odious Phil Lenard (1862-1947 and who didn’t die soon enough). The experiment revealed as much to humans as did the experiments and inventions of Hooke and Leeuwenhoek on the invisible worlds revealed by their microscopes. Bertha, Roentgen’s wife, sat for 15 minutes while her husband passed his rays through her hand; she ran from the room once she saw the results, revealing her very bones and no doubt a strong sense of the fragility of life, and the strong presence of death. Many had the a similar reaction to the Kandinsky's shapes and Malevich’s white circles and red rectangles and Ibsen’s drama and Einstein’s dancing dust and the rogue syncopation of jazz—these newnesses were threatening to all of the established ways of looking at physics, and art, and theatre, and listening to jazz. It was a new perspective which challenged the firmly established vision of these things, upsetting the nature of comfort and acceptance. It is probably a very natural reaction to try and protect established memory—but memory is made all of the time, and so should be relatively flexible…at least it is mechanically healthier to allow a little bending than to be rigid and brittle.
For example, one of Marey's sequenced photographs from the 1870's and which reminds me of Duchamp's revolutionary Nude Descending: