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