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Charles Bell: representations in medicine

Chiara Ambrosio and I have been doing integrated historical and philosophical work on the representative practices of the anatomist, artist and surgeon Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842). This was initially prompted by four watercolour large anatomical watercolours held by the UCL Art Museum.

Bell, C. (c1830). Nervous system of the head and trunk. Watercolour, graphite and iron gall ink on paper. 1000 x 500mm. UCL Art Collections. Bell, C. (c1830). Respiratory system. Watercolour, graphite and iron gall ink on paper. 1000 x 500mm. UCL Art Collections 9283. Bell, C. (c1830). Spinal nerves. Watercolour, graphite and iron gall ink on paper. 1000 x 500mm. UCL Art Collections.

Left to right: 

Bell, C. (c1830). Nervous system of the head and trunk. Watercolour, graphite and iron gall ink on paper. 1000 x 500mm. UCL Art Collections.

Bell, C. (c1830). Respiratory system. Watercolour, graphite and iron gall ink on paper. 1000 x 00mm. UCL Art Collections 9283.

Bell, C. (c1830). Spinal nerves. Watercolour, graphite and iron gall ink on paper. 1000 x 500mm. UCL Art Collections.

Bell, C. (c1830). Side of the face. Watercolour on graphite and charcoal on paper. 600 x 700mm. UCL Art Collections 9282.

Bell, C. (c1830). Side of the face. Watercolour on graphite and charcoal on paper. 600 x 700mm. UCL Art Collections 9282.

These anatomical watercolours form the basis for work exploring Bell’s visual practices as an integrated part of his work. This particularly focuses on two aspects of Bell's work: his writings on the anatomy of expression, and his researches on the nervous system. We suggest that Bell engaged in both art and medicine in a harmonious and complementary manner. The harmonious nature of his work has been rather neglected in the historical literature, which has typically engaged with his visual practices in a surprisingly fragmented way. 

The anatomy of expression

This was mainly intended as teaching materials for artists. As part of this, we have prepared transcriptions of two editions of his Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting:

Link to the text of the first edition (1806)

Link to a facsimile copy of the first edition (archive.org)

Link to the text of the second edition (1824), retitled Essays on the Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression

Link to a facsimile copy of the second edition (google.com)