Rowlandson,Thomas (English, 1756-1827)

The Anatomist

Reference Type:
The poster on the back wall in this image advertises “a course of anatomical lectures accompanied with dissections,” for which the anatomist is preparing his instruments. In the nineteenth century, it was difficult to procure corpses for dissection. In Catholic countries, Papal decisions in the sixteenth century allowed universities and artists access to cadavers in certain cases due to the importance of the knowledge of anatomy to both fields. In Protestant Great Britain and the United States however, most cadavers were obtained from grave robbers, who targeted new graves and sold the corpses to middle men. That way, anatomists and physicians could deny knowledge of where the corpses came from. In polite company grave robbers were known as Resurrectionists—a less polite term was “sack-em-up men.” A sack is visible here on the left; however, it was occupied by a very alive young man who has presumably used a ruse to get into the house to see his love, who now is begging her father not to dissect him. Authority figures are always viewed ambivalently because of their power. The doctor is often a figure of respect and reverence, but also can be seen with suspicion and mistrust. This work’s attitude is similar to present day concerns and fears about doctors and vaccines, or suspicions of the “death panels” threatened by Sarah Palin. Notes by Dr. Linda Pessar and Mariann Smith
Art of Medicine
C.C. Fry Collection of Medical Prints, Yale University, New Haven, CT