Exhibition: Under the skin: illustrating the human body

This exhibition runs from Fri, 1st Feb 2019 to Fri, 15th Mar 2019. See all dates

This event runs over several days/weeks. Dates include:

This exhibition has finished.

Coronavirus: Events may be cancelled and venues closed at short notice, you are advised to check on their websites before making a trip.

Cost: Free of Charge

Using rarely seen books, artworks and objects, the displays examine the themes of illustrating, opening, mapping, knowing and treating the human body.

Amongst the many highlights of the exhibition is a complete edition of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, published in Basel in 1543. One of the most famous books in the history of medicine and of art, it depicts the human body with a level of detail, accuracy and creative flair completely unknown before.

Nearby, a 17th century work produced in London shows a flayed man standing as if still alive, holding up his own skin, the features of his face still clearly visible on the ghost-like surface. Equally as shocking is a brightly coloured engraving by Jacques Gautier d'Agoty from 18th century Paris. In it two heads are shown, once more as if still living but this time lying closely together as though in a bed. At first sight they appear to be drawn with the accuracy and sympathy of a portrait. On second glimpse it’s clear that their skulls and facial features have been dissected.

A truly remarkable image created in Persia (present day Iran) in 1656, uses feathered lines to indicate the wide spread of the nerves throughout the body, various colours tracing the different branches and routes of the fibres. Elsewhere, a Japanese manuscript from the 1820s delineates the internal organs alongside a representation of acupuncture points relating to key systems of the body. From Victorian Scotland comes a startling photographic image of 1893 showing a horizontal cross-section of the human brain, seeming to visually presage the scans of modern age.

With items as diverse as a 15th century representation of a naked body, a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, an early 19th century stethoscope, 20th century x-ray images and a recent ultrasound of a foetus in the uterus at 20 weeks of gestation, the displays peel back the surface of human existence to reveal what lies beneath. Cataloguing the many and various tools and styles we have employed to chart the body through the course of seven centuries of history.

Contact and Booking Details

More information at this website.

No need to book tickets - just turn up on the day.


Royal College Of Physicians,

11 St Andrews Place,
Regent's Park,

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