In a series for the first day of each month, Hyperallergic is exploring some firsts in art, from the earliest known depictions of things to pioneers in the visual fields.
To comprehend the human body, it’s necessary for the physician to understand its inner-workings. Yet dissection has long been a complex and controversial task. In 18th-century Great Britain, posthumous dissection was a punishment for criminals, and grave robbing in the 19th century for anatomical dissection often preyed on non-white and indigent burial grounds. The portrayal of dissections in art has reflected these anxieties. For instance, in Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” (1632), each face is incredibly detailed, including that of the corpse, a thief named Aris Kindtwho had been hanged. It was important for the artist to communicate that this was not just an anonymous deceased.