Comparative Guts

Close this search box.

Abdominal Dissection

woodcut after Jan Steven van Calcar (North Netherlandish, ca. 1515– ca. 1546). From Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Basel: J. Oporinus, 1543), bk. 5, p. 360 [460], fig. 6. 

Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 84-B27611

Ribs have been broken and the skin peeled back to display the liver, stomach, and intestines in this woodcut illustration. These are encased not in a living body but one of stone, as indicated by the smooth breaks of the headless torso. Composed in Padua by the Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) and published in Basel in 1543, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem set a new standard for anatomical illustration in both the quality, size, and number of its woodcuts. This torso is at once a stylish presentation and an uncanny one, as if layers of living flesh could be found within a sculpture of stone and the secrets to what was considered the ideal form of the human body as rendered in antique sculpture could be revealed. Collected and greatly admired, antique torsi also offered more pleasant connotations than quartering and disemboweling, a form of capital punishment in the period. They further marked Vesalius, who refers throughout his writings to ancient authors such as Galen, as one imbued with the classical world.

Monique Kornell