'The Secret Figure': artistic anatomy and the medical body in nineteenth-century American culture
Slipp, Naomi Hood
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This dissertation examines nineteenth-century American art and visual and material culture, interrogating the ways that art communicated medical knowledge to artists, doctors, and the public. Attention is paid to the relationships forged between medical professionals and artists via joint endeavors towards understanding human anatomy and picturing the body. These collaborations produced works of art that legitimized American professional medicine and arts pedagogy. Chapter one, which focuses on the display of classical casts at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Boston Athenæum, claims that these idealized sculptures accomplished surprisingly similar ideological ends, enforcing cultural capital while affecting ideas about corporeality. The second chapter analyzes four Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes and one print from 1846-47 that depict the first public ether demonstration and two subsequent surgeries in the Massachusetts General Hospital amphitheater. By attempting to photograph ether and pain's absence, their production linked medicine with technological and chemical advancements. Chapter three surveys a selection of anatomy illustrations painted between 1849 and 1854 by Oscar Wallis for Dr. Henry Bigelow's lectures at Harvard Medical School. These diagrams relate to the development of visual diagnostics, a core goal of the American Medical Association. Chapter four concentrates on the U.S. Army Medical Museum and explores two sets of engravings, fragmented Vesalian torsos and renderings of plaster casts of Civil War amputations, from The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-65). Chapter five evaluates artistic anatomy instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and analyzes Thomas Eakins's plaster and bronze anatomical cadaver casts. They mark a significant transition in corporeal representation away from the model elaborated upon in chapter one, which relied on visual translation centralized around idealized proportions and classical models, and towards a tactile understanding of the human body as a medically complex three-dimensional organism. In assessing methods for corporeal representation across the nineteenth century, this dissertation claims that the study of anatomy affected representations of the human body and, through their dissemination, the American publics' notions about what the human body looked like, how it functioned, and how it should be represented.