In De humani corporis fabrica (1543), a foundational volume for modern anatomy, Andreas Vesalius instructs his readers to find and dissect a human body that looks like an ancient Greek sculpture by Polykleitos. Although almost none of the bodies he himself dissected looked that way, the illustrations in his influential publication rely heavily on tropes of antique male muscularity, canonical proportions and direct references to Greek statues.
In contrast to Vesalius's idealized bodies, 16th and 17th century anatomical illustrations are rife with varied bodies that push against the primacy of this Greco-Roman canon. Many anatomical treatises portray the human body as more permeable, abstract and resistant to Vesalian norms. This talk by Professor Lyle Massey explores some of the problems confronting early modern anatomists as they tried to define and grasp the human body.