Pop-up bodies, 16th-century style, now online
17 August 2009
Anatomical sheets are intriguing prints that depict the human body through labelled illustrations. They often use a three-dimensional 'pop-up' device of superimposed flaps, which can be raised in sequence to display the internal anatomy of the male or female figure - as such, the sheets mimic the act of dissection.
The earliest recorded sheets were printed in Strasbourg by Heinrich Vogtherr in 1538. They were probably produced in great numbers but only a very few survive today. There are 19 sheets in the Wellcome Library's collection - the largest single collection in any institution.
The surviving examples represent only a fraction of a much larger number, most of which are now lost for ever. There is, however, always the hope of fresh discoveries in unexpected places.
Images of the Library's anatomical sheets have been created, showing each flap lifted up in sequence, and animated versions are available from the Library catalogue. For more details on this project see the Wellcome Library Blog.
Image: Anatomical fugitive sheet (female) with movable flaps which can be raised to show cut-outs of the viscera attached beneath,1573. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.