“Flaying the Antique: Classical Sculpture, Anatomy and the Nineteenth Century”

Event Start Date:
11 January, 2018
Event End Date:
11 January, 2018
Event Venue:
the RCP

Presented by Rebecca Wade of the Henry Moore Institute.

Classical sculpture was put to work in a number of ways in the nineteenth-century Academy and School of Art. Looking primarily at the British modes of instruction with comparative references to the European academic tradition, this lecture analyses the detailed coloured and labelled drawings of the human skeleton and musculature that required the student to render the internal structures of the body within the outline of an example of canonical antique sculpture. Although Academies and Schools of Art were in possession of full-size three-dimensional plaster casts of these objects, in addition to skeletons and écorché, these drawings were often copied ‘from the flat’ through standardised prints. This practice embodied the tension between two schools of thought in nineteenth-century art education: one that privileged the surface of classical sculpture as the only legitimate source of anatomical information for artists and the other aspiring to a forensic understanding of the human body from the inside out. These drawings occupy a liminal territory in this respect, being neither wholly concerned with a generalised classical surface nor rendering a specific skeleton or musculature in the manner of a medical illustration.

Dr Rebecca Wade, BA, MA, PhD, is an art historian with a particular research interest in the relationships between plaster casts, exhibitions and art education in Victorian Britain.