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Fourth ESNA Talk: The anatomy lesson

ESNA (The European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art), in collaboration with RKD, has organised a series of digital presentations. In the coming months, ten art historians will present new and current research on the art and culture of the long nineteenth century.


Life drawing

In this fourth ESNA Talk, Andrew Graciano guides us through the research he did for the book (ed.) Visualizing the Body in Art, Anatomy, and Medicine since 1800: Models and Modeling (2019). He focuses on a work painted by the Tilburg artist Adriaan de Lelie (1755-1820), which shows us an anatomy lesson. Graciano examines the academic art practices, specifically in relation to the life-drawing session. To what extent were (and are) students encouraged to draw the model exactly as they saw him? Or were they encouraged to improve the model and to idealize it anatomically? In this ESNA Talk Graciano makes clear that the answer to this question will be different across time and space, schools, and instructors. But the answers are telling about the perceived roles, functions and goals of art in the largest sense.


Andrew Graciano

Prof. Andrew Graciano is Professor of Art History (European, 1700-1900) at the University of South Carolina in the United States, where he has taught since 2002. He published a book and several articles on the English artist Joseph Wright of Derby, and the memoir of painter and electrical scientist Benjamin Wilson. Recently, Graciano turned his focus on the history of Dutch art, science and politics around 1800. In 2018 he published an article in Oud Holland: 'A Dutch Connection: Re-identifying a Portrait Subject at the London National Portrait Gallery.' He demonstrated that the sitter is not Tiberius Cavallo, but rather Cornelis R.T. Krayenhoff.

1. Adriaan de Lelie, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Andreas Bonn, 1792, collection Amsterdam Museum
2. Hendrik de Flines, Standing male nude, with a relief depicting a fertility goddess (Isis?) and a shield with the emblem of Felix Meritis, 1789, collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
3. Jan Swart, Standing male nude by a column, 1789, collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam


The European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art

ESNA was founded in 2012 by a group of scholars, graduate students and museum professionals and is linked with the Research School Art History (OSK) and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. Although originating in the Low Countries, ESNA aims to be active in a broad international field, because nineteenth-century artists and art were part of an international network, just as (art-historical) research into the nineteenth-century transcends borders.