By Gus G., Rebecca H., Jared L., Joe Z.
Throughout the semester, we researched the intersecting development of realism in science and art during the English Renaissance. Specifically, we focused attention to how anatomical dissections caused a shift toward more realistic portrayals of human and animal anatomy in artistic texts. The Renaissance saw the rise of anatomical theaters, which indicated an increased interest in methodological science. Prior to this time, anatomy was theoretical in nature, insofar as professors studying the body had more confidence in their books than in the physical evidence before them. Even if a physical dissected body differed from the text, professors privileged images found in their books over the dissected evidence. Thus, the first public dissections were conducted in this manner: a professor of anatomy sat high above, reading from an aged text, while below an assistant performed the physical dissection, all of which was conducted in front of an audience.
The influential scientist Francis Bacon pioneered the scientific method that influenced later research in the period–and this method shaped continued inquiry today. Following in Bacon’s footsteps, William Harvey, using the same scientific method, discovered that blood circulates through the body. Prior to this moment, no scientists embraced the idea that blood left the heart and then circulated back . These discoveries challenged commonly held beliefs about the connection between animals and humans. Similarities between animals and humans led scholars to doubt the superiority of humans.
During the English Renaissance, curiosity about anatomy led to a greater interest in more realistic portrayals of anatomy in methodological science and paintings. Previously, illustrators were significantly less concerned with an accurate representation of animal anatomy. The representations were more allegorical and less about realistically portraying the actual animal. For example, illustrations of Aesop’s fables might depict a beaver as being indistinguishable from a medium sized dog. The Renaissance saw a rise in accurate artistic representations of both human and animal anatomy.