The beauty of anatomy. 5/5.

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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 final episode, Adam investigates the story of Gray’s Anatomy (1858), the most ambitious anatomical textbook ever produced. The arrival of anaesthetic in the mid-19th century allowed surgeons to perform longer and more complex procedures, which demanded an encyclopaedic knowledge of anatomy. At the Royal College of Surgeons, Adam views a first edition of the volume, originally titled Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical. Gray’s ambition was to cover the entire the human body in an affordable and accessible book; its 989 pages were completed in just three years. Gray’s Anatomy marked a departure from stylistic illustrations in favour of accurate, functional content. The project necessitated a huge number of dissections, all of which were carried out personally by Gray and Carter. Both were doctors at St Georges’ Hospital on Hyde Park Corner; Gray a fiercely competitive surgeon, and Carter, who came from a more modest background, an apothecary surgeon. The project’s success hinged on the 1832 Anatomy Act, which allowed unclaimed bodies of the poor to be dissected. When the two men fell out over the payment of fees, Carter took up a post as Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in Bombay. In the page proof of the first edition, Gray’s handwritten notes reveal his intention to minimise Carter’s role in the book. Gray went on to die of smallpox three years after its publication, at the age of 34. Gray’s Anatomy is now in its 40th edition, but subsequent revisions have transformed it beyond recognition. Many of the images are MRI or CT scans. The textbook also has an online component, making 3D imaging possible. All of the anatomists and artists featured in the series performed their own dissections. But new forms of medical imaging have made it possible for artists to create illustrations without having ever seen a corpse. Adam meets Richard Tibbetts, the lead artist, who uses computer aided design to compile the images. So is this the end of the relationship between art and anatomy, or has the relationship merely changed? Artist Eleanor Crook, who produces both artworks and medical models, believes we are now seeing ‘a new renaissance’ of anatomically-influenced artworks.


UK : BBC 4, 2014.

Physical description

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

Copyright note

Tern Television Productions Ltd 2014


Broadcast on 10 September 2014.

Creator/production credits

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



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