October - the month when ghosts, ghouls, creepy crawlies, witches, monsters and other ghastly (but probably fictional) things come out to play. So in celebration of All Hallow's Eve, we'd like to showcase some real-life creepers - historic anatomical prints.
Anatomy may not sound all that scary, but it actually has a rather disturbing past. In the 16th century, Andreas Vesalius published De Humani Corporis Fabrica, a book of anatomical explanations accompanied by detailed illustrations of the human body, which he drew from human cadavers that he stole from an obliging graveyard. His work revolutionized medicine and surgery. In addition, the incorporation of illustrations broaden the accessibility of anatomical works to would-be physicians. Eventually, anatomical prints became so popular that well-known artists, including Michelangelo, began selling them. Universities likewise promoted the study of anatomy with the dissection of cadavers.
The Scientific Revolution saw a steady rise in medical students, which meant a greater demand for human corpses. This demand led to body snatching and anatomy murder - both very lucrative. Body snatchers dug up graves of the recently deceased and sold the corpses to medical schools for a pretty penny. In some cases, people even committed murder in order to obtain a fresh corpse - all in the name of medical research! But the murder and mayhem was eventually quelled with the passage of legislation that allowed schools to legally obtain bodies from executed criminals, asylums and other caretaker institutions. Of course, having the body of a loved one dissected and used as an anatomical model was considered a fate more terrible than death. Indeed, many considered it a punishment. Obviously the pride of organ donor dots on identification cards hadn't taken hold yet.
Whether drawn from a body-snatched corpse or a legally obtained one, anatomical prints evolved over several hundred years. Originally black and white sketches, artists added color and eventually used layers of flaps to create intricate renditions illustrating the various layers of tissue, muscle, and organs for a particular part of the body. Today, anatomy has become a standard part of educational curricula and the anatomical prints from the days of yore have been replaced with photographs and less gruesome illustrations. So come to Special Collections and take peek at some of history's creepy anatomical wonders!