The Fabric: A Poet’s Vesalius

Heather McHugh in Poetry:

Screenhunter_4Some etymologists give the Greek “to see for oneself” as the source for the English word “autopsy.” An alternative, “seeing into oneself,” is hard to overlook when one studies the work of the sixteenth-century Belgian anatomist Vesalius. I gaze on these écorché figures with an exquisitely doubled (or divided) sense of looking.

Take the suffering skeleton (1), for instance. Very detailed, down to the tailbone, an excruciated figure: wailing away under the auspices of the clinician. But the artist has been at work in this presentation too. For the facts are mysteriously informed by feeling, and as the brain can make us feel, so too the heart can make us think.

Vesalius had his drawings done by Titian and his studio. (Some scholars attribute the work to only one artist, Calcar. For economy I’ll refer to Titian himself, since I hold him responsible for his atelier.) There is some graphic footage here. The images rivet and reveal us as no list of facts could do. And the shocks are carnally compounded when (in the muscleman series) flesh adds its suggestiveness to gesture, yet overall, thanks to the depth of Titian’s gifts, the images cannot remain merely voyeuristic.

More here.  [Thanks to Thomas Zipp.]