Sep 20 2011: The Anatomies of Animals (from Virtue’s Household Physician, c.1930s)

A previous post featuring paper anatomical models from Virtue’s Household Physician – a five-volume home reference on medical and health matters – was drawn from a single odd volume. These come from a full five-volume set found, somewhat damp and battered, in a box at the Cattle Market on Saturday  morning, and since disassembled for their plates and useful parts. As before, these images look very much like things a young Damien Hirst must have been as obsessed with in his own childhood as I remember being in mine: in fact, substitute the horse for a pig and I think this might almost amount to a catalogue of studies for his series of 1990s works involving the nose-to-tail bisection of common farm animals, suspended in formaldehyde tanks. Part of the appeal of these images, I suspect, arises from the way that the bisected animals are portrayed in otherwise normal postures, grass under their feet, as though each continues to walk and go about its ordinary business despite having been cut cleanly into two halves, along the line of its own backbone. This gives them a kind of unreal air, not dissimilar to the dynamic postures adopted by the flayed figures in the engravings of Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564) whose works, I suppose, first established the strangely contrary naturalistic convention being pursued here to very un-naturalistic effect.

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