Under the skin: anatomy, art and identity

10 Oct 2019 – 31 Jan 2021

Regular hours

10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00

Cost of entry


Royal College of Physicians Museum

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Tube: Great Portland Street

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Peeling back the surface of existence to reveal what lies under the skin. An exhibition exploring the unsettling beauty of the human body from the medieval age to the contemporary world.


As a species we are fascinated by the contents of our complex and fragile bodies.

Throughout time physicians, surgeons, artists and printers have developed diverse techniques to represent the layers of our three-dimensional physicality. From ancient woodcuts to 21st century scans, anatomical models to sculptures, x-rays to films: all have the power to evoke feelings of delight, disgust, fascination and horror.

Following the success of acclaimed pop-up exhibition ‘Illustrating the human body’, this enlarged show features works from a dozen contemporary artists, placed alongside more than 60 rarely seen anatomical drawings, books and objects from the Royal College of Physicians’ outstanding collections, spanning over 500 years.

Together they tell the story of anatomy, provide personal and emotional reflections on medical images of the human form, and provoke questions of identity, power and consent. Whose bodies are being used, and who controls how they are depicted?

Highlights of the exhibition include a complete edition of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, published in Basel in 1543. One of the most famous books in the history of both medicine and art, it illustrates the human body with a level of detail, accuracy and creative flair completely unknown before. Nearby, a 17th century work published in London has a flayed man standing as if still alive, holding up his own skin, the features of his face still clearly visible on the ghost-like surface.

A Japanese scroll from 1820 delineates the internal organs alongside a representation of acupuncture points relating to key systems of the body. From Victorian Scotland comes a startling photographic image of 1893 showing a horizontal cross section of the human brain, seeming to visually presage the scans of modern age.

Providing a current perspective on the medical objects, and contemplating our complex relationship to our bodies today, are contemporary artists Andrew Carnie, Amanda Couch, Adelaide Damoah, Tamsin van Essen, Bee Flowers, Rebecca D Harris, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, Sofie Layton, Lucy Lyons, Liz Orton, Angela Palmer, and Ruth Uglow.

Their works in a range of media from glass to ceramic, performance to sculpture complete this unique exploration of the human body in art and medicine.


Sarah Backhouse

Katie Birkwood

Exhibiting artists

Ruth Uglow

Patrick Kelley

Angela Palmer

Bee Flowers

Rebecca D Harris

Tamsin van Essen

Mary Reid Kelley

Andrew Carnie

Amanda Couch

Liz Orton

Adelaide Damoah

Sofie Layton

Lucy Lyons


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