The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

18th Century Representations of the Body

The skeleton of a boy nine years of age, leaning on the scull of an horse, which comparatively shews the size of the boy

During the eighteenth century, anatomists and artists went to great lengths to assure their audiences of the accuracy of their anatomical images by highlighting the techniques and tools they used to create them. In 1733, William Cheselden published Osteographia, the first text with life-size illustrations and descriptions of every bone in the human body. He used a camera obscura, or a darkened box with an aperture for light to travel through, essential in the invention of photography, to create the images. The device projects a three-dimensional object or scene, flipped and upside down, onto the back wall of the box. This technique made it easier to correctly trace and proportion the body. Cheselden was also interested in comparative anatomy. He used illustrations of the skeletons of chimpanzees and other animals in the text for comparison and scale.

Tabulae anatomicae tertiae musculorum hominis

Although Cheselden used a camera obscura to achieve verisimilitude, his full skeletons are shown in stylized landscapes reminiscent of Vesalian and Renaissance anatomy. Published during the rise of Romanticism, anatomical texts of the eighteenth century moved towards scientific objectivity but clung to the religious and allegorical imagery of previous centuries. One of the last anatomical texts that united claims to objective science with art and religion was the Tabulae sceleti et musculorum. It was published in 1747 by anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus, in collaboration with artist Jan Wandelaar. The atlas includes engravings of skeletons and muscle men in detailed and dramatic scenes. Yet Albinus also used grids to trace and proportion the illustrations, adding shading to give the illusion of three dimensions and highlight their realism. Soon after Albinus and Cheselden's work, texts began to focus on individual body parts rather than anatomical figures or anatomical scenes.