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New Medieval Books: The Art of Anatomy in Medieval Europe

The Art of Anatomy in Medieval Europe

By Taylor McCall

Reaktion Books
ISBN: 978 1 78914 681 3

There is a myth that medieval Europeans did not understand human anatomy and did not perform human dissections. Taylor McCall’s new book definitively disproves that and has the images to back it up. It examines various illustrations related to anatomy found in medieval texts.


Just as modern anatomical diagrams are subjective, so too were medieval ones, created to express different viewpoints of or information about the body. They were not intended to communicate a unified, empirical ‘knowledge’ of the make-up or processes of the interior. In addition, emphasis in medieval anatomical learning was on physiological function rather than the organization of the parts within the interior space of the body, as is often the emphasis in modern-day anatomy. Medieval anatomical images range from neat, simplified full-body figures dedicated to a single ‘system’ (the bones, for instance) to abstracted internal views of individual organs, to scenes of a cadaveric dissection.


Some of the images described in this book include:

Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 399, fol. 22r
British Library MS Sloane 1977 fol. 2v
Musée Condé Ms. 334, fol. 281v.
Leonardo da Vinci(1452-1519) – The cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman c.1509-10

Who is this book for?

One can see two distinct audiences for this book – first would be those interested in medieval medicine; the second are those interested in medieval art, particularly connected to manuscript illuminations. Medievalists in general might want to consult this book as it greatly helps to overturn previously held ideas about medieval people being backward when it comes to learning and medical knowledge.

The author:

Taylor McCall is currently the managing editor of Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies. A PhD from the University of Cambridge, Taylor’s research focuses on art and medicine in the Middle Ages. You can learn more about her work through her page or follow Taylor on X/Twitter.


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