The beauty of anatomy. 4/5.

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About this work


In this five part series, Dr Adam Rutherford investigates the close relationship between discoveries in anatomy and the works of art that illustrate them. In the penultimate episode, Adam investigates the story of the two brilliant but controversial Hunter brothers, who transformed medicine and art in 18th-century Britain. Over a period of 25 years beginning in 1750, William and John Hunter dissected the bodies of a series of pregnant women. Each stage of the process was captured in chalk by Dutch artist Jan van Rymsdyk and compiled into William Hunter’s seminal work, The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774). At the Wellcome Library, Adam examines the book with Simon Chaplin. Many of its 34 plates are life-sized to maximise detail and accuracy. The Hunter brothers’ belief that their students could only learn anatomy by carrying out dissections created an unprecedented demand for dead bodies and a market for the growing trade of body snatching from graveyards. Adam travels to the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow to view van Rymsdyk’s original chalk illustrations. Their vivid realism set them apart from their anatomically ‘perfect’ predecessors. Yet van Rymsdyk came to resent William Hunter, and his name is omitted from the book’s preface. At Glasgow University Adam consults the brothers’ pathological preparations with Quentin Fogg. William’s extensive art collection demonstrates his dual interests in art and medicine. When the Royal Academy of Arts opened in 1768, William became the first Professor of Anatomy. He used a full-sized cast of an anatomised body in his classes, smaller replicas of which became an indispensable tool for artists. At the Hunterian Museum, London, Adam learns how John went beyond human anatomy to study the whole of life; an approach that left him with a very different conception of its origins to that of William. John’s biographer Wendy Moore outlines the rift that developed between the brothers, leading to the creation of two separate Hunterian collections in London and Glasgow.


UK : BBC 4, 2014.

Physical description

1 DVD (30 min.) : sound, color, PAL

Copyright note

Tern Television Productions Ltd 2014


Broadcast on 3 September 2014.

Creator/production credits

Produced and directed by Michael Waterhouse; Tern Television Productions for BBC



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