The Physician's Art: Representations of Art and Medicine

Hansen, JuliePorter, Suzanne

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Art with Commentary

Annotated by:
Jones, Therese
  • Date of entry: May-20-2005


This is the meticulously researched and beautifully constructed catalogue for a 1999 exhibition at the Duke University Museum of Art. Over one hundred items originally produced to serve the science of medicine were culled from the history of medicine collections in four North Carolina institutions: Duke, East Carolina University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest.

Covering a wide range of time periods, media, and nationalities, the exhibit was coordinated by Suzanne Porter, librarian and curator of the History of Medicine Collections at Duke University Library, and Julie Hansen, an art historian. Martin Kemp, Professor of Art at the University of Oxford, supplies a foreword to the catalogue.

The rich and unusual yield of materials is grouped thematically rather than chronologically in five sections: "Art and Anatomy," "The Surgical Arts," "The Doctor's Practice," "Obstetrics and Gynecology," and "Non-Western Medicine." All images and objects are accompanied by historical information, biographical detail, thoughtful analysis, and precise description.


Similar to many collections of artistic images whose subject is medical science and practice, the scholars who introduce this exhibit remind readers of several things. First, we are reminded of the ontological affinity of medicine and art--namely, the search for knowledge about ourselves. For example, in describing the anatomical representations of Vesalius, Martin Kemp situates the scientist's drive to master the human body within the larger compulsion of the Renaissance to disclose the wonders of God's creation.

Second, we are reminded of the complex interrelationship of art and medicine with Julie Hansen especially noting the synchronous development of medical knowledge and graphic technologies. For example, just as the beginning of modern anatomical practice is inextricable from the advent of the mechanically printed book, so too is the scientific objective of producing increasingly accurate images of the body inextricable from the development of photographic techniques.

Finally, we are reminded of the mechanical correspondences between the phases of medicine--observation, diagnosis, treatment--and the phases of the artistic process. However, because such marvelous and diverse materials were collected here, both Kemp and Hansen break with tradition and appropriately and imaginatively consider them in the broader context of contemporary cultural analysis, calling attention to our own standpoint and challenging us to imagine just how the visual culture of current medicine will look to those outside its institutions in time and place.


59 photographs of exhibits


Duke Univ. Press

Place Published

Durham, N.C.



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