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An intriguing, new multi-venue exhibition curated by two physicians at the University of Chicago explores the history of anatomical representation and the evolving relationship between the arts and medical science. On view through June 20, Imaging/Imagining the Human Body in Anatomical Representation is jointly presented in three parts by the Special Collections Research Center (The Body as Text), Smart Museum of Art (The Body as Art), and The John Crerar Library (The Body as Data) in collaboration with the UChicago Arts|Science Initiative. Each part contributes uniquely to the larger theme of the exhibition.

The exhibition is free and open to the public and includes over 60 works in a variety of media (drawings, rare manuscripts, sculptures, engravings, and radiographic images) dating from the Renaissance to present day. It features both imaginative depictions of the human figure made by artists as well as scientific images of the body, and it traces the interplay of artistic and medical imaging through out history. “In popular perception, the artist depicts the human figure for aesthetic or expressive purposes, while scientific images of the body lay claim to objective representation,” write the curators, Brian Callender, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Mindy Schwartz, MD, Professor of Medicine, at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. “In fact, the story of anatomical representation is far more complex.”

As Imaging/Imagining reveals, early anatomical illustrations required close collaboration between anatomists and artists, illustrators, and engravers. These images reflected scientific conventions but were also weighted with aesthetic, social, political, and religious meaning. As anatomical images became more medicalized, the disciplines diverged.

Following the advent of the X-ray at the turn of the twentieth century, the divide widened as new imaging technologies allowed medical practitioners to visualize the body as never before. At the same time, modernism and abstraction radically transformed artistic practice, which had for centuries emphasized the centrality of the well-drawn figure. Today, modern medical imaging continues to inform artists’ perceptions of the body while still relying in part on the subjective hand of an expert to  manipulate and reinterpret layers of data into a visual form. “A project like Imaging/Imagining transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries in a way that enriches our understanding,” noted Julie Marie Lemon, program director and curator of the Arts|Science Initiative in the Office of the Provost at the University of Chicago. “The exhibition is an example of the sort of sustained dialogue the Arts|Science Initiative seeks to foster between artistic and scientific forms of inquiry within the University and beyond.”

The exhibition’s themes will be explored in greater depth through several public programs, notably the talk on Thursday, April 17 at 5 p.m., “Seeing Into and Seeing Through: The Promise and Peril of Imaging” by Dr. Richard B. Gunderman, Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, and Vice Chair of Radiology at Indiana University.  

For more information about the multi-venue exhibition, visit smartmuseum.uchicago.edu.


Detail from Wilhelm Braune’s Die Lage des Uterus und Foetus am Ende der Schwangerschaft, 1872. Rare Book Collection, The University of Chicago Library.

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New Multi-Venue  Exhibit Explores Images of the Human Body from Three Perspectives

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