Before there was Gray's Anatomy, physicians and medical students used anatomical flap books to explore the inner workings of the human body—a scientific illustrated guide that takes its name from the moveable paper flaps that can be "dissected" to reveal hidden anatomy underneath. Similar to pop-up books, these instructional tools mimic the act of human dissection, allowing doctors and students to study the intricacies of the body normally concealed by flesh.
Even after the release of Henry Gray's extremely influential textbook, anatomical flap books were still used as a more hands-on approach to learning the underlying layers of the human body.
Duke Libraries is currently holding an exhibit entitled Animated Anatomies, free to the public, which commemorates these visually stunning, technically complex and somewhat disturbing illustrated flap books. The exhibit blends the history of science, medical instruction and the intricate art of bookmaking into a virtual autopsy display ranging from early examples in the sixteenth century to the common children's pop-up anatomy books of today.
"Flap books illustrate bodies immersed in the intellectual, aesthetic, technological, philosophical, gendered, even religious culture of the time in which they were produced," said Valeria Finucci, the curator of Animated Anatomies. "They allow for a material reading of their medical content. In the interchange between the doctor/anatomist and the illustrator/technician, the body parts that emerge acquire a life, and a beauty, of their own."
Animated Anatomies: The Human Body in Anatomical Texts from the 16th to 21st Centuries is on display from April 6-July 17, 2011 in the Perkins Gallery at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and from April 13-July 17, 2011 in the History of Medicine Gallery in the Medical Center and Archives Library.
If you can't make it to Duke for the gallery, be sure to check it out online.