|Joseph Maclise, Pl.III "Dissection of the|
Neck and Thorax, Heart and Blood Vessels"
Surgical Anatomy (1856).
If you have perused our blog thoroughly, you might already have noticed that the gorgeous sketch depicting the face and skull of conjoined twins which we have selected as our header image is a section of a plate from Joseph Maclise's Surgical Anatomy (1856), all of the plates from which are available through the Anatomia Collection. This particular image was chosen not simply because of what it represented, but because Maclise's style itself, in this plate as throughout his body of work (pun fully intended), seems designed to elicit a highly sensual reaction.
His sketches often depict the hooks, strings, and instruments used to expose successive layers of flesh, vessels, and organs, remnants of the intrusion of medical probing which are typically erased from anatomical sketches. And also unlike many medical sketches, which hide the faces of their subjects, or else strip them of their identity, Maclise's "dissected figures", to quote the collection's description of the text, "seem almost life-like, with real faces, usually of young men with fair hair."
|Joseph Maclise, Pl. 2 "Arteries, Veins, and|
Nerves of the Thorax and Neck" in Richard Quain's
Anatomy of the Arteries of the Human Body (1844)
Maclise's detailing of the feathered hair clinging to skin even as it is pulled apart to reveal each layer beneath, of the instruments that rip and tear as much as they slice, leaving ragged flaps as a grotesque frame, all of this casts a reflection of the dissected corpse on the page (or screen) onto the body of those observing it. As much as some images may evoke dignity and heroics, Maclise's overall style draws attention to a grim sensuality of dissection that is absent from many medical sketch. As he exposes the mystery of muscles and bones and blood vessels, his drawings render the subject/body monstrous; twisted, tortured, ecstatic, open bodies intimately tied to the living observer through an evocation of shared sensuality.