Medieval Images of the Human Body

By the later Middle Ages there was great interest in anatomy and how the body worked. Medieval people made illustrations to explain medical and anatomical issues of human body. The “margin of safety was dangerously narrow between effective anesthesia and death from respiratory depression” (Campbell 39-40). Hence, surgery was not attempted short of cases of life-threatening injuries. The workload of medieval surgeons would increase during war and the Plague.

By the late 15th century the image of Wound Man became popular in medieval medical textbooks. It depict the various different ways someone could get injured in battle or by accident.


The Eye

The 9th century scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809 – 873) wrote extensively about ophthalmology. Throughout the book, Hunayn explains the eye and its anatomy in minute detail; its diseases, their symptoms, their treatments. He discusses the nature of cysts and tumors, and the swelling they cause. He discusses how to treat various corneal ulcers through surgery, and the therapy involved in repairing cataracts. “Ten Treatises on Ophthalmology” demonstrates the skills Hunayn ibn Ishaq had not just as a translator and a physician, but also as a surgeon. This drawing of the eye is based on his works.


For convenience, Hunayn’s works can be divided into those concerning medicine and those dealing with other subjects. Among the medical works are translations of ancient texts, summaries treatises and paraphrases of these texts, and original. For this group treaties. For this area of his activity, consult the section of this article

Johannes de Ketham was a German physician living in Italy at the end of the 15th century. Ketham is known today for producing the monumental Fasciculus Medicinae, which was first published in Venice in 1491. Fasciculus medicinae was the first printed book to contain anatomical illustrations. The text is a collection of short medical treatises edited by Ketham, many of which are from the medieval period. In 1491, an Italian version of his book on anatomy was printed – it contains woodcut illustrations such as this showing a human anatomy about to take place.

Even though the popes looked down upon dissection, they did not mind much the inspection of fatal wounds by experienced physicians. “Although necropsy would not necessarily be implied in such cases, a certain amount of anatomic probing would have to be done” (Kevorkian 35). Such inspections were usually administered (and allowed) in cases of conspicuous circumstances surrounding the deaths of higher priests, popes, or nobility.

An important fact to point out is that the Church not only allowed but actually ordered caesarean sections on dead pregnant women in attempt to save the soul of the unborn infant.

It does really make a good Wolverine cover 🙂