Anatomy is the oldest scientific discipline of medicine. The first documented scientific dissections on the human body are carried out as early as the third century B.C. in Alexandria. At that time, anatomy was explored through dissections of animals, primarily pigs and monkeys.
Claudius Galen (129-199) was a physician in Ancient Greece whose conclusions are purely based on the study of animals and whose faulty theories on human anatomy dominated and influenced the medical science until the Renaissance, over 1,000 years later.
In medieval times, the body was seen as the frail housing for the soul. During the Renaissance, however, the human body is exalted for its beauty, and becomes the primary source of inspiration for artists of the period. For the sake of art, many Renaissance artists begin studying the human body.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) attended dissections performed by medically trained friends, but also performed them himself so he could illustrate the body in all its natural splendor. Not only did he depict muscles in the most realistic way, but also bone structure, the skeleton and skin. Da Vinci was passionately engaged by his studies of the human body. Under cover of the night, he would climb cemetery walls, steal bodies, and drag them to his studio.
We have learned so much about the human anatomy in the centuries since da Vinci. Charles X. Carlson (1902- 1991) put a Cubistic twist on this study in his 1941 book: A Simplified Art Anatomy Of The Human Figure.
Carlson, born to Finnish immigrants in Minnesota, left school at 12-years-old to work in a bakery, and later, in mines, lumber camps, and as a sailor.
He studied at Crane Technical College in Chicago and the Chicago Art Institute for four years. Later he attended the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York City, along with Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.
His experience as an illustrator, cartoonist, muralist, and teacher in New York City brought him attention and acclaim He painted murals for the 1936 New York World’s Fair. He created “Elsie”, the famous Borden Company cow. He did ads for Ford and General Motors.
During World War II, Carlson was a staff artist and cartoonist for War Times, a publication of the Pentagon. He spent two years painting, lecturing, and exhibiting in South American countries for the U.S. State Department as a part of the Good Neighbor Policy.
His paintings are included in collection of major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In his lifetime, he created more than 20,000 paintings and drawings for friends, relatives, neighbors, and friends in the art world. Most importantly, he published a series of 20 art illustration books that sold millions of copies and are still in print today.