The curiosity of the Renaissance
The origins of artistic anatomy date back to the Renaissance. Mentioning this, it is Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvius study that comes to mind immediately, which depicts and analyses the proportions of the human body and includes the rules of the golden ratio, often seen in works of art of the period. Da Vinci is one of the greatest and best-known polymaths in the history of mankind, and almost everyone knows some of his life and works. His interest in anatomy and his research far beyond his time are important for this topic, as he performed dissections in order to gain a scientific understanding of the human body, despite the ban of the Church.
Da Vinci's contemporary was Albrecht Dürer from Bavaria, a prominent figure of the German Renaissance. He was a painter, graphic artist, engraver, book illustrator and scientist, the embodiment of the Renaissance man. With two other scientists, he made the first scientific star map, a combination of art and science. He studied the rules of perspective, geometry and proportion, with a particular interest in the proportions of the human body and the nature of beauty.
Interestingly, Dürer was of Hungarian descent on his father's side; his father, the goldsmith Albrecht Dürer Senior, immigrated to Nuremberg from Ajtós in Békés County. In memory of this, the Ajtósi Dürer Row in Budapest, which runs alongside the City Park, commemorates his name.
His interest in the natural sciences resulted in his animal and plant portraits, of which the most famous are perhaps the watercolour painting of the Young Hare or the woodcut of the Rhinoceros. In 1528, the year of Dürer's death, the anatomy book with the title “Four Books on the Proportions of the Human Body” (Della simmetria dei corpi humani) was published, with illustrations by the master and analyses of the proportions of several figures. The Italian edition of 1591 is available in our database.
Shortly afterwards, Andreas Vesalius, a Dutch doctor, who lived and worked in the 16th century, is considered the first modern anatomist, as he was the first to use human autopsies to gain a better understanding of the functions of the human body. He was not only an innovator in this; he discovered and corrected the errors of the hitherto unquestioned ancient physician Galen, making many enemies. The illustrations in his great work De humani corporis fabrica (On the Functioning of the Human Body) of 1543, which are still considered unique in artistic and anatomical terms, are thought to have been created by Titian's disciple Jan van Calcar. Nothing proves its exceptionality more than the fact that it was published in Hungarian more than 400 years later, in 1967, edited by János Szentágothai, an anatomist and former president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Hungarian artists around a cadaver
Our database contains numerous anatomical drawings and sketches by 20th-century Hungarian artists, which is why we jump through time and space. The teaching of artistic anatomy in Hungary began several hundred years later, pioneered by Bertalan Székely, who taught at the National Royal Hungarian Pattern Drawing and Art Teacher Training School from 1871 (he was also the rector between 1902 and 1905), and attached particular importance to dissection painting. And Kálmán Tellyesniczky, a doctor, who as a university professor also gave lectures with autopsy to students at the Institute of Anatomy at the turn of the century, and taught artistic anatomy at the Royal Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts until 1922.
The technical book of artistic value on the subject, which has become a classic, is linked to Jenő Barcsay. Barcsay was a painter, graphic artist and university professor, whose art was influenced by Cubism, Expressionism, and later Constructivism, which used geometric forms and structural lines. His subjects often included figurative compositions, landscapes and street scenes of Szentendre. Between 1946 and 1975 he was a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts, teaching figure drawing. The Artistic Anatomy was published in 1953, and the anatomical atlas, also used as a schoolbook, has been the basic work on the subject in Hungary and abroad, both in artistic and medical circles. Its impact is demonstrated by the fact that the Department of Anatomy, Drawing and Geometry of the Hungarian University of Fine Arts has awarded the Barcsay Prize and a study award every year since 1990.
Translated by Zita Aknai