Tag: anatomy

Anatomical Fugitive Sheet

How Did 16th Century Doctors Get Their Anatomical Info? Pop Up Books, of Course!

Today, we use books for everything. Seriously, everything. Way back when, however, books were expensive, difficult to produce, and uncommon among the public. About this time, humanity was discovering biology, anatomy, the inner workings of the human body as a whole. 

 

Illustration and artwork was a powerful tool for those studying anatomy, but issues arose from a two-dimensional drawing representing the three-dimensional reality that is the human body. The answer? Flaps.

 

Medical pop up books

Image via Atlas Obscura, Wellcome Library, London.

 

Atlas Obscura recently wrote about how what were essentially pop-up books were used as medical documents at this time. Pop up books are alluring, for sure, but medical pop up books are fascinating. Grotesque, sure, but fascinating nonetheless. 

 

The first known anatomical flap prints were produced in Strasbourg, France, in 1538 by Heinrich Vogtherr. The German artist, printer, and poet pieced together multiple layers of pressed linen so that readers could open up his illustrations to reveal the positions of major organs in both male and female figures. While volvelles, or multi-layered, moveable wheel charts, had been used in medieval astronomy and navigational texts, this was the first time a similar idea had been applied to anatomical illustration. 

 

Early work including flaps to display anatomy are known now as “fugitive sheets”. The loose-leaf prints described organs, some meant as companion pieces to other texts offering additional knowledge – knowledge including further study and treatments for a variety of illnesses.

 

Cali Buckley, an Art History PhD candidate from Penn State with a vast knowledge of flap anatomies, said “These were very much part of a bigger idea of not only understanding anatomy, but also having a sort of folk remedy available. It was very much about public edification.”

 

Medical pop up books

Image via Atlas Obscura, Wellcome Library, London.

 

Of course, not everything was accurate. 

 

Flip through one of Vogtherr’s female illustrations, for example, and you’ll find a U-shaped curiosity called the “lacmamil.” “It’s basically two tubules coming down from the nipples that were thought to turn blood into milk, which is something that obviously does not exist,” Buckley says.

 

Medical pop up books

Image via Atlas Obscura, Wellcome Library, London.

 

In terms of flap anatomies and the advancement within education, Andreas Vesalius is the man to pay attention to. Think of him as the Michael Jordan of medical text with accurate illustrations. He’s responsible for two of the most celebrated anatomical texts in history, and he published them in the same year. 1543 saw the publication of his dual opuses, De Humani Corporis Fabrica – A Facsimile of the Revised Version of 1555: (On the Fabric of the Human Body) (Vol. 1 of 2) and (Vol. 2 of 2)and its shorter, cheaper counterpart, Epitome. Directed at students, the books established a new standard for flap anatomies.

 

Later authors and illustrators, such as Johann Remmelin, combined these standards with their own artistic abilities and flair. His 1619 Catoptrum Microcosmicum features three full-page plates with dozens of detailed anatomical illustrations of both male and female bodies. “They were incredibly complicated, but also accurate and kind of wildly pretentious,” says Buckley. 

 

Medical pop up books

Image via Atlas Obscura, Wellcome Library, London.

 

As time went on, the techniques used became more sophisticated, leading to more innovative uses of “flap technology”. Gustave J. Witkowski created a multi-layered brain with over twenty moveable parts in his Le Corps Humain (French Edition). Eduard Oskar Schmidt gives you the ability to peel the face off a mustached Victorian man to investigate the muscle tissue, nerves, eyes, and brain underneath in The Anatomy of the Human Head and Neck

 

 

Medical pop up books

Image via Atlas Obscura, Wellcome Library, London.

 

The idea to see within the human body began long before we actually could. Flaps allowed scientists, students, and doctors to gain essential knowledge in their field, and art and science melted together to create a variety of incredible diagrams of the human anatomy. Today, we use technologies like MRIs, CAT scans, and the like, but pop-up books with flaps have not disappeared. Jonathan Miller’s The Human Body was a favorite of mine growing up, after I stole it from my sister’s bookshelf. Continuing with my kleptomaniac tendencies with my sister, she has a stack of transparencies left over from dental school that would make an incredible, if grotesque, wallpaper. 

 

The innovation and knowledge gained from these flap illustrations has been invaluable to society, and while I’m not a STEM girl, I’m still fascinated by the subject. The human body is a wondrous, magnificent mystery to most people, including myself, and flap anatomies allow amateurs like me to fulfill their curiosity without going to medical school, which is nice.

 

Featured Image via the Wellcome Collection.