Anatomy may be a scientific field of study, but its practitioners include some of history's finest artists. Many of them you probably know– da Vinci, Michelangelo, other Italian Renaissance artists – but we'll bet you've never heard of Hermann Dittrich.
Herrmann Dittrich, as you might have guessed from his name, was not Italian. Nor was he alive during the Renaissance. Dittrich was, in fact, a German medical illustrator who lived and worked at the turn of the 20th Century. It was during this time that he lent his considerable talents to Handbuch der Anatomie der Tiere für Künstler (An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists), a series of texts published between 1898 and 1921 by German veterinary anatomists Wilhelm Ellenberger and Hermann Baum.
The volumes are arguably some of the most influential anatomical texts of the last hundred years – not just for artists, but for anatomists and zoologists, as well. According to the University of Wisconsin's Digital Collection, where one can access more than 80 pages of illustrations from Handbuch der Anatomie:
The primary focus of these illustrations is on the integumentary and musculoskeletal systems of the horse, cow, dog, lion, goat and deer. The detail of these images is exquisite. Their timeless quality has allowed their use over many decades. These images are not only useful to artists but also to veterinary anatomists, comparative anatomists, zoologist and anyone interested in learning more about the anatomy of these species. What may be surprising is that, although the overall conformation of each of these species is different, many specific anatomical structures across these species are very similar.
Below, we've included 18 of our favorite scans from the University of Wisconsin's Digital Collection – but it's just a taste. Go check out the rest here – but be forewarned, Dittrich's illustrations (and the rest of the University's collection) is a bit of a time-suck.
There are those who claim that art and science are divided – that between them there stands a wall, over which each side is afforded only occasional glances. Much has been written on this divide, but it is pithily summarized in a story told by Richard Feynman about a friend of his who once claimed that he, as an artist, could appreciate the beauty of a flower, whereas Feynman, as a scientist, was inclined to take the flower "all apart," rendering it a "dull thing."
Few areas of study can dismantle the supposed wall dividing science and art exquisitely as the field of anatomy. "Italian Renaissance artists became anatomists by necessity," writes Carmen Bambach, curator of drawings and prints at NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art, to the point that their investigations eventually "surpassed much of the knowledge of anatomy that was taught at the universities." To study the body plan of a living being, then, is to make sense its aesthetic form and mechanical function simultaneously, with each informing the understanding of the other.
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