Inventing the bodily interior: écorché figures in early modern anatomy and von Hagens’ body worlds

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Stephens, E 2007, 'Inventing the bodily interior: écorché figures in early modern anatomy and von Hagens’ body worlds', Social Semiotics, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 313-326.

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Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibition contextualises its display of plastinated bodies within the Renaissance tradition of écorché (or flayed body) art—surrounding its figures with screen-prints of early modern anatomical illustrations, labels bearing explanatory medical information, and quotations about the body and mortality from religious and philosophical sources. This paper argues that the early modernécorché figure informs not only the iconography, but also the kind of anatomical knowledge—the anatomised vision of the body—that Body Worlds reproduces. While images of early modern anatomical art serve to foreground the declared educational aim of the show, primarily by contextualising it within a long history of public anatomy, they also reveal that for von Hagens, as for the Renaissance anatomists before him, the anatomical significance of the body is to be found by removing its skin and exposing its interior. Such images do not simply reveal the inside of the body, this article demonstrates, but rather represent the invention of a specifically modern concept of bodily interiority, one intricately connected to a wider reconceptualisation of the body as individual and self-contained.

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