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Coloured plates from Essai d’Anatomie (1745)

These extraordinary illustrations were produced in 1745 by Gautier D’Agoty, and form a remarkably detailed atlas of the head, neck, and shoulder areas of the human body, with explanatory text in French. The scenes were based on cadavers dissected by Joseph Duverney and made using the mezzotint method (from the Italian “mezza tina” or “half tone”). Mezzotints are produced by rocking a toothed tool over a metal plate to create tiny holes that hold ink. The roughened surface is then polished to varying degrees of smoothness, thus reducing ink-holding capacity and creating subtly darker and lighter tones. Coloured mezzotinting was invented in 1719 by Gautier D’Agoty’s master, Jaques Christophe Le Blon, and involves making three separate impressions (of blue, yellow, and red ink). Since the mezzotint technique is quite labor-intensive, it had largely fallen out of favour by the twentieth century. As the Internet Archive description explains:

Most often used to reproduce paintings by famous artists, mezzotint printing was rarely used for original works of art, making the “Essai d’Anatomie” a work of great scientific and artistic significance. The original copy of the “Essai d’Anatomie” held by the Rudolph Matas Library of the Health Sciences at Tulane University was restored, bound, and digitized by William Kitchens. The restoration work was completed on May 6, 2008. These remarkable anatomical images from the 18th century provide a fascinating look into both the artistic and scientific climate of the period.

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: Medical Heritage Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
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