Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Anatomy plates: More shocking than useful

Jacques Fabien Gautier D’Agoty (1716–1785) was born in Marseilles and learned color printing in Frankfurt while working for Jacob Christoph Le Blond, the man who had invented this process. Perhaps anticipating his later conduct, D’Agoty claimed after Le Blond’s death to have made this invention himself.

Moving to Paris in 1736, he had the idea of producing colored plates for use by students of anatomy, and associated himself with several surgeons and anatomists who were carrying out autopsies. His plates, more shocking than useful, showed partially dissected bodies that displayed deep structures, muscles, bones, and abdominal organs. He had some very realistic close-up views of female and male genitalia, sometimes damaged by venereal diseases, as well as an image of a woman’s head accompanied by an image of a pregnant woman with an open uterus and fetus.

Though well regarded during his lifetime, considered a philosopher and anatomist, and elected to the academy of sciences and art in Dijon, he was also seen as an aggressive and sensational charlatan. Some critics commented that his work was probably aimed at more prurient-minded lay persons than at anatomists, not recommending themselves to the student of anatomy either for their faithfulness or their technique. Others suggested it was a publicity stunt to obtain support for his printing enterprise, or even to display under the guise of science images that in eighteenth century France were forbidden and considered punishable by law.  More recent critics have adopted a more favorable view, regardless of his claims to have invented color printing, and considered him the forerunner of early 1920s “surrealism” and Salvador Dali, featuring sex in a symbolic manner.
D’Agoty’s son, Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-D’Agoty, was also an artist and produced a gallery of portraits of famous men and and women, including Queen Marie Antoinette.

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in Chief

Summer 2018



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