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  • Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy: Images from a Scientific Revolutionby Domenico Laurenza
  • Leslie Jacoby
Domenico Laurenza, Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy: Images from a Scientific Revolution(New Haven: Yale University Press 2012) 48 pp., color ill. (repr. of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin[ Winter2012]).

Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italyis a concise chronological (somewhat clinical) review of how time and place set the stage for art and science to converge into artistic inquiry and medical didacticism. Using his extensive research from 2006 and 2010 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, science historian Domenico Laurenza investigates the modus operandiof artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rubens, all of whom collaborated with scientists, publishers, and patrons to create a host of sketches, studies, artworks, and didactic texts. In the context of scientific progress, Laurenza’s examination demonstrates how existing fifteenth-century publishing practices charged forward with dynamic technological advances into the sixteenth century—from drawings, woodcuts, engravings, and écorché sculptures to profitable materials for use in the art world and the academic domain. It introduces us to numerous significant milestones in anatomical studies from a time when “public dissections of executed criminals” were regular events in Renaissance Italy, attracting northern artists to Italy for a wealth of knowledge. Laurenza explains the pivotal humanismperiod as giving way to a budding “modern organ pathology,” developing new modes of healing, and stimulating artistic anatomical exploration that elaborated new understanding of body mechanics that would produce more elegant interpretations in art, i.e., creating a newer visual language. Laurenza uses well-referenced illustrations to exemplify each milestone; case in point, he points to Florentine artist Pollaiuolo’s original copperplate (as opposed to woodcut) of a tangled representation of nude muscular men in motion, capturing the nuances of muscle movement in a kind of [End Page 293]artistic-anatomical hybrid. References and explanations show how the aesthetic macroscopic metamorphosis enabled artists-anatomists, scientists, and printers to translate handwritten medical treatises (already) prevalent in medical universities into novel teaching manuals. Laurenza argues that this nascent visual language used by artists played an important part in “re-drawing” the role of art and science itself.

But this monograph’s main attractions are the iconic artist-anatomists, namely Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rubens. They each in turn take up the scientific and artistic polemic over anatomy and physiology, performing personal dissections, and subsequently contributing to a growing medical knowledge. Leonardo seems to set the bar high for those who follow him, for he takes “the physiognomic study of the human” from his initial studies of the human body as modes of statics, dynamics, and kinematics through a superlative series of expressive images of man in action, exemplifying the apex of a visual language as a point of view both complex and sophisticated. In counterpoint, Michelangelo’s anatomical study for artistic functionality is equally informative as “uninterested in the production of a scientific treatise” but eloquently focused on the macroscopic physical in preparation for a specific assignment (referenced by the Libyan Sibyl on the Sistine Chapel ceiling vault). Laurenza describes Michelangelo’s work as a “metamorphosis of form” whereby a “precise formal syntax” of fluid “contours” becomes the nude as body, muscles, and bones enclosed in skin. Raphael subsequently takes the lead from Leonardo and Michelangelo to develop a sophisticated advance from their previous comparative anatomy studies, but his style is seen as “a key component of the invention of harmonic figure composition,” a definitive aesthetic taking the artistic notion of fluid bodily equilibrium to new heights, creating his own “personal morphology” and “anatomical canon” schematic drawings used for the understanding of the human form. The fourth iconic artist that Laurenza examines is the Flemish artist Rubens, who moved to Mantua and became part of the discourse about what would be the “most useful means of representing anatomy.” By the latter sixteenth century, scientific and artistic collaboration had used various media such as woodcut, engraving, etching, sculpture (various but especially the écorché), and color (ultimately favoring etching). Laurenza points to Rubens as the consummate collaborator of visual language, coinciding with the artistic polemic on the paragone...


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pp. 293-295
Launched on MUSE
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