Three anatomical dissections taking place in an attic. Coloured lithograph by T. C. Wilson after a pen and wash drawing by T. Rowlandson.

  • Rowlandson, Thomas, 1756-1827.
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A lithograph by T. C. Wilson after a pen and ink and colour wash drawing by Thomas Rowlandson in the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The drawing was given to the College by Dr William Tiffin Iliff, who is identified as its owner in the caption to the lithograph. Three bodies are being dissected in a room lit by skylights and decorated with human and animal skeletons and, along the right wall, a bust on a console and an illustration of a skeleton tacked on the wall between a list of dissection room rules and one of prices for male, female and infant cadavers. The lithograph has traditionally been identified as William Hunter's dissecting room, but, if so, it is not topographically accurate, since, as Dr Helen Brock informed the Wellcome Institute in a letter of 22 March 1997, "from the plans I have of Hunter's Windmill Street premises, dissections and preparations took place in the basement underneath the anatomy theatre, so that it would not have had a sky-light, also its outer wall was curved". There may nevertheless be some conneection with William Hunter: he was one of the first to take advantage of the relaxation in London of the rules for dissection that followed upon the breakup of the Company of Barber Surgeons in 1745, by advertising a course of anatomy in the following year. He ran a school of anatomy, first at Covent Garden, then at Litchfield Street, and finally, from 1768 until his death in 1783, at his house on Windmill Street, which had a purpose built anatomy theatre and a museum that featured Hunter's collection of anatomical preparations which he used in teaching anatomy. The Rowlandson caricature probably depicts the dissecting room at Windmill Street. With regard to the anatomy school, John Hunter, in his manuscript annotations to Samuel Foart Simmons 1783 biography of his brother, observed that William Hunter had "...reduced the pompous oratorial mode of Lecturing to the simple and familiar discription which probably on [no] man could excell. He was the first in great Britain that taught publickly dissections; for prior to this time, no pupil could get a subject, but what he could procure of himself, and when he ventured to get one, there was no one to instruct him. His improved course, the dissections of dead bodies naturally drew the Pupills to him." (Brock ed. 1983, p. 5)

Physical description

1 print : lithograph, with watercolour ; image 25 x 35.8 cm


The dissecting room. From the original by Rowlandson ; In the possession of William Tiffin Iliff. Esq<ui>re ; T. C. Wilson lith. Lettering includes: Rules to be observ'd by those gentlemen who dissect in ... ; Prices for Bodys ; Male subject ; Female d<itt>o ; Infant ...

References note

William LeFanu, A catalogue of the portraits and other paintings drawings and sculpture in the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh and London 1906, no. 297, pp. 95-96, pl. 52
D. R. Karp, ed. Ars medica, art medicine and the human condition, exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985, no. 17, p. 167
C. H. Brock, ed., William Hunter 1718-1783. A memoir by Samuel Foart Simmons and John Hunter, East Kilbride 1983, p. 5
G. Wolf-Heidegger and A. M. Cetto, Die anatomische Sektion in bildlicher Darstellung, Basel and New York 1967, no. 321, pp. 360-362


Wellcome Collection 25405i


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  • mounted impression in smaller mount

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