The anatomical representation of the human body: From epistemological examples deriving from medical history to morphometric imaging performed with the laser scanner technique

Giacomo Gelati, Ferdinando Paternostro, Andrea Alberto Conti, Giovanni Orlandini


The anatomical illustration of the human body is a topic rich in epistemological elements in the course of medical history. Since ancient times concerns about the real correspondence of the scientific and/or artistic representation of human anatomy with the original one arose. First of all, a static two-dimensional representation, the one typical of drawings, was not able to get the depth and complexity of dynamic three-dimensional anatomical morphology. In addition, the epistemic issue that a post-mortem illustration could not somehow correspond to living structures was present even in the past. For a long time the anatomical representation of the human body has been attracting the interest of medical doctors, artists, scholars and philosophers as a fact-finding technique of dissection of corpses preparatory to curative surgical practice in the living body. With regard to that, in the Western world the sixteenth century is often seen as the golden age of normal and macroscopic human anatomy. Major steps in the evolution of the anatomical discipline are the switch from the “normal” to the “pathological” area during the seventeenth century and the transition from the macroscopic to the microscopic level in the eighteenth century; that is true also from an illustrative and iconographic point of view. The tradition of setting up three-dimensional models for the study of the human body dates back to the eighteenth century too. Today’s research techniques in the field of anatomical images are so advanced that they allow the full conformity of human representation, the continuous availability of preserved images, the complete multi-dimensionality of the rendering and the complete dynamism of the whole view. In this context, laser scanner could be the ideal tool to create a new Atlas of Human Anatomy composed of models which are rotatable, observable from every perspective, absolutely faithful to reality, analysable as in a real dissection and carefully measurable.


anatomy; history of medicine; epistemology; research methods; laser scanner; morphometry

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