The Manchu Anatomy — a Revisited Fabric of Bodily Paintings
(64th Meeting Budapest, 2022)
During an investigation of biographies of renowned European anatomists who can be regarded as intercontinental contemporaries of the Tibetan personal physician of the fifth Dalai Lama, their traces and origin condensed in striking contexts into an impressive non-European body of work: the Manchu Anatomy. A lot has already been written about the choice of the included illustrations, as well as about different versions in various European libraries. It has also been known for almost a hundred years that the image templates are of much more diverse origin than Bartholin’s atlas. We also know that the original artists were not always identifiable, because although accusations of plagiarism existed at the time, images from other atlases were freely adopted into new editions. The images in the Copenhagen edition differ considerably from those in the Paris edition, especially with regard to the presentation of the bones. In terms of details, the Paris edition is hardly described. Recent studies on the activities of the Jesuits in China in the 17th and 18th centuries make it easier to assess which European works were available to them. The Manchu Anatomy is a remarkable work and document of transfer of medical knowledge, but it is also a document of which European anatomical works seemed most appropriate to be represented to the Emperor. The anatomical project of the Jesuit mission in China became an important document of the who’s who in the European history of Anatomy, however, no direct connection to Tibetan developments of anatomical depiction could be detected.