Under the skin: illustrating the human body

1 Feb 2019 – 15 Mar 2019

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 human existence to reveal what lies beneath the skin. This ‘pop-up exhibition’ explores the art and science of anatomical illustration from the medieval world to the present day.


As a species we are fascinated by the contents of our complex and fragile bodies. Throughout time physicians, surgeons, artists and printers have developed tools and techniques to identify and understand what is hidden inside the human form, from ancient woodcuts to contemporary three-dimensional imaging.

The results – masterpieces of artistry and technology – capture the beautiful and unsettling shapes, structures and textures of organs, bones and tissues. Rarely seen drawings, books and objects from the Royal College of Physicians unique library, archive and museum collections go on public display in this unique show.

Some of the many 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 medicine and of art, it depicts 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 print 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.

Running for six weeks only from 1st February 2019, this thrilling exhibition provides a rare glimpse into the astonishing story of anatomy, and centuries of human attempts to understand the mysteries of our bodies.


Sarah Backhouse

Katie Birkwood

Exhibiting artists

Angela Palmer


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