Curator Geert Vanpaemel, historian of science at the University of Leuven, illustrates Vesalius’ indelible impact on the medical anatomical tradition and on artistic conceptions of the human body. By contrast to his predecessors and colleagues, Vesalius dared to question accepted medical wisdom. What’s more, he even performed dissections on the corpses of executed criminals.
Vesalius. Imagining the Body transports its visitors to the life and times of the legendary anatomist and scientist. It explores his travels, studies at the University of Leuven and his career as court physician. As the highpoint of his career, you can discover the magnificent woodcuts from his ground-breaking book De Humani Corporis Fabrica. In other words: the scientific atlas of the human body and the primary reference work for anatomy and modern medicine until the present day. Not only does the book provide meticulously detailed anatomical descriptions of the entire human body, it also contains exceptionally high-quality illustrations, probably executed in the studio of the Italian artist Titian. The beautiful anatomical plates inspired both physicians and artists for hundreds of years.
The exhibition covers anatomical representations of the human body in both Vesalius’ period and later, and illustrates his influence on the evolution of perceptions of the human body. He is treated as a humanist scholar who both emulated his Greek scientific predecessors and heralded a new tradition in the study of medicine. Throughout the centuries, however, anatomical imaging continued to evolve. The exhibition presents an overview of various art forms throughout different periods upon which Vesalius’ way of looking at and representing the body had in indisputable influence. What began as a scientific fascination for the human body soon influenced the artistic representation of all aspects of the body.
Thanks to the new era ushered in by Vesalius, anatomical theatres became scientific places of work. The exhibition reconstructs a life-sized copy of this type of wooden amphitheatre in which spectacular dissections – that sometimes lasted weeks – were performed in public. You can also admire the ‘muscle men’, examine life-sized anatomical drawings by Jan Wandelaar and prints by Jacques-Fabian Gautier d’Agoty, wax models by André-Pierre Pinson, Clemente Susini and Carlo Calenzuoli, the Glass Man from Dresden, the Smugglerius by William Pink, The Age of Bronze (L’Âge d’airain in French) by Auguste Rodin and anatomical studies by Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne.
The majority of the pieces displayed in the exhibition are from museums, archives, libraries and the medical collections of art academies.
Running parallel to these events, M is also hosting an exhibition of the work of contemporary artist Markus Schinwald (Salzburg, °1973). The first solo exhibition in Belgium by the Austrian artist immerses you in a surreal atmosphere. Schinwald and Vesalius indisputably share a fascination for the human body, and keep exploring and questioning it continuously.
An initiative of KU[N]ST Leuven vzw, a cooperation between the city of Leuven and KU Leuven
In cooperation with M – Museum Leuven
Cultural partners: 30CC, Academie van het Leives Dialect, Alfagen, Braakland/Zhebilding, fABULEUS, Farmaleuven, M- Museum Leuven, KU Leuven, Festival van Vlaanderen Vlaams Brabant, VIB, Frascati Symphonic, Histaruz, Lectio, LUCA School of Arts, SLAC/Academie Beeldende Kunst, STUK,
UZ Leuven, Vormingplus Oost-Brabant, Werktank and Toerisme Leuven.