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Gross or beautiful? Check out these medical art pieces used to teach docs in olden days

11:02 am by | 0 Comments

Visual art has helped doctors and surgeons-to-be learn about anatomy, procedure and disease for centuries. “Visualizing Disease,” an exhibit at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, showcases art from as early as the 1500s that was made with the intent of growing human knowledge in medicine.

“Typically, artists have been interested in the human body and the beauty, harmony and proportion of its parts. When you deal with disease, you are dealing with the opposite of that — there’s no beauty, harmony or proportion, but the images can be very powerful,” exhibit curator Domenico Bertoloni Meli said in a press release. “It’s very interesting to watch people interact with the illustrations. They’ll often say, ‘Oh, that’s so beautiful,’ when you wouldn’t think of an image of a diseased intestine as typically beautiful. But that’s what’s so striking about these works: They reach out and speak in many different ways to many different people.”

The exhibit includes pictures of pustules caused by chicken pox and the corroded bones of a deceased woman infected with syphilis, as well as a reproduction of the original watercolor Thomas Hodgkins used to lecture on a new discovery in 1832. It would come to be known as Hodgkins lymphoma, according to the release.

What do you think? The depictions are so intricate, so well-drawn — I’m tempted to say they’re beautiful myself.

lilly library visualizing disease eye tumor

from the Lilly Library. Guilhelmus Fabricius Hildanus, Opera quae extant omnia (Complete Works). Frankfurt: J. Beyer, 1646. This woodcut immortalizes the eye tumor of Claude Mayor, the ruler of Lutry, a small town on the lake near Lausanne, Switzerland.

from the Lilly Library. Robert Carswell, Pathological Anatomy. Illustrations of the Elementary Forms of Disease. London, 1838. The major treatise of Carswell, an artist and pathologist, contains hundreds of hand-colored lithographs of diseased states based on his watercolors, such as this one depicting a diseased lung with pulmonary tuberculosis.

from the Lilly Library. Robert Carswell, Pathological Anatomy. Illustrations of the Elementary Forms of Disease. London, 1838. The major treatise of Carswell, an artist and pathologist, contains hundreds of hand-colored lithographs of diseased states based on his watercolors, such as this one depicting a diseased lung with pulmonary tuberculosis.

 

from Lilly Library

from Lilly Library

“Visualizing Disease” will be on exhibit until Dec. 20 at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Ind.

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Lindsey Alexander

By Lindsey Alexander

Lindsey Alexander is an Indiana-based freelance writer and editor covering the medical device industry. She earned a degree in journalism from Indiana University and a master's from Purdue.
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