The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Gray’s Anatomy

Muscles of the left hand, palmar surface

Engraved by Butterworth and Heath from a drawing by H.V. Carter. From Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical by Henry Gray, 1858.

Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical was first published in London in 1858. Its authors, Henry Gray and Henry Van Dyke Carter, were both demonstrators of anatomy at St. George's Hospital. Gray wrote the text and hired Carter to provide the illustrations after winning a 100 pound (£) prize in a competitive essay competition. Gray used the funds to pay Carter, who received neither thanks nor attribution for his initial work, and to publish his book, forever known as Gray's Anatomy.

Gray's Anatomy was stylistically plain, well organized, and affordable for purchase by medical students. The illustrations were clearly drawn and labeled and lacked any artistic interpretation. The illustrations were printed using woodblocks, a method which first required an artist to draw images on paper and then those images were reversed and cut into a block of wood. Carter was of such talent that he was able to draw the reverse of images directly to woodblocks, and in so doing avoided the possibility of distortion that could occur during the transfer process.

Although the anatomical drawings done by Carter are works of art in their own right, Gray's Anatomy was never intended for use by artists. It was a pedagogical tool which rendered the human body in pieces, much like the body rendered during dissection. Future editions have attempted to be as comprehensive as possible without surrendering readability or affordability, and have also resisted the use of photography or sectional anatomy. However, some microscopy and computer-generated visuals have crept into recent editions.