Artatomical: T-shaped Incision by Max Brödel

T-shaped Incision by Max Brödel Wikimedia Commons

Here's another dose of Artatomical for you, in which we stand back and consider the intersection of art and science in the realm of medical illustration. This time it's an illustration by German-American artist Max Brödel (1870-1941), from the 1922 text "Diseases of the Kidneys, Ureters and Bladder" by gynecologist Howard Atwood Kelly.

Brödel was a medical illustrator of the highest caliber. He studied gross anatomical and historical drawings at the Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts and was a stanch believer that in order to illustrate anatomy, one must understand anatomy. Here's a quote from the man himself on this revelation:

"I did not know then that the only way to plan a picture is to leave paper and pencil alone until the mind has grasped the meaning of the object ... Copying a medical object is not medical illustrating. The camera copies as well, and often better, than the eye and medical drawing full comprehension must precede execution"

Brödel was quite the innovator as well. Having found all exiting mediums ineffective in capturing "the sparkling highlights that characterize wet, living tissue," he developed a new means of illustrating the anatomical details . His Carbon Dust and Stipple Board Technique entailed a special paper surfaced with heavy white layers of chalk or china clay. Here's how it went down, according to Max Brodel (1870-1941): His Artistic Influence on Surgical Learning at John Hopkins Medical School by Pia Pace-Asciak:

"Initially, Brödel would draw the image on tracing paper, and then bring it into direct contact with the stipple board to leave an imprint of the desired image. Generally, the drawing was not made directly on the Ross board in order to maintain its freshness for the final work up. Once the imprint was made, carbon dust was layered in stages to create the sense of depth, background and tonal gradation. The illusion of structures being three dimensional was then created by using an eraser to lift highlights and soften the edges of structures. Fine and precise details were then engraved with the tip of the scalpel blade and with fine dark lines using black watercolor or carbon pencil. The overall effect created striking differences between lights and darks."

The above image of the T-shaped incision is startling in its detail and artistry, but it also seems to resonate with spiritual foreboding -- perhaps due to the influence of Dr. Kelly, the book's author and a fundamentalist Christian. We see an echo of the spear wound of Christ in the image, as well as "a sense of impending doom that lurked in the shadowy folds of every woman's tissue" [source: Pace-Asciak].

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.