Artatomical: Dutch Doc Dissects Japanese Woman


18th Century, artist unknown. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty

The piece follows the traditional Japanese style of painting, or Nihonga. A deceased Japanese woman hangs eviscerated before an emotionless Dutch physician and it's hard to believe we're not supposed to feel something here. While there's nothing expressly horrific going on, the painting certainly gives me the chills.

Dutch/Japanese relations date back to the early 17th century, and Rangaku or "Dutch learning" allowed Japan to stay abreast of modern science and medicine despite the island nation's strict isolationism from 1641-1853 -- and this paved the way for Japan's future modernization and technological precision.

So good things can come of contact with a colonial power, but there's something dark in this work, perhaps suggesting the horrors of European colonialism and even the darker aspects of Japan's own international future. That's my take anyway. If nothing else, we see another example of what happens when the artistic and anatomical worlds collide.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.