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Health Info Libr J. 2001 Jun;18(2):99-109.

Medical illustration: from caves to cyberspace.

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1
Medical Library, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, Israel. jtsafrir@yahoo.com

Abstract

The human body has been depicted in ancient cave-paintings, in primitively sculpted figures, and through all the ages in various forms of artistic expression. The earliest medical texts were descriptive but not illustrated. Later, as it became clear that knowledge of the human body and all its systems was essential to the practice of healing, texts were accompanied by illustrations which became an integral part of the teaching process. The illustrators included artists, whose interest was primarily artistic, but who were sometimes employed by surgeons or physicians to illustrate their texts. Occasionally, the physicians or scientists accompanied their texts with their own illustrations, and in the last century, medical illustration, in its infinite variety of techniques, has been developed as a profession in its own right. As knowledge was extended, permitted by social and cultural change, as well as by technological advances, the types of illustrations have ranged from gross anatomy through dissections showing the various organ systems, histological preparations, and radiological images, right up to the computerized digital imagery that is available today, which allows both static and dynamic two- and three-dimensional representations to be transmitted electronically across the world in a matter of seconds. The techniques used to represent medical knowledge pictorially have been as varied as the illustrators themselves, involving drawing, engraving, printing, photography, cinematography and digital processing. Each new technique has built on previous experience to broaden medical knowledge and make it accessible to an ever-widening audience. This vast accumulation of pictorial material has posed considerable problems of storage, cataloguing, retrieval, display and dissemination of the information, as well as questions of ethics, validity, manipulation and reliability. This paper traces these developments, illustrating them with representative examples drawn from the inexhaustible store of documents accumulated over more than two millennia.

PMID:
11780739
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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