Date of Award


Publication Type


Degree Name



Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology


Anatomical illustrations, Anatomy, Beauty, Feminist constructionism, Medical history, Visual thematic analysis


C. E. Hundleby


A. Fitzgerald




Anatomical illustrations have been integral to modern anatomy’s practice and instruction since its conception as a discipline in the sixteenth century. While this practice lends itself to modern anatomy’s highly visual nature, the bodies featured in anatomical illustrations have been exceptionally homogeneous in appearance for as long as the discipline has existed—a fact which has lasting consequences in the contemporary sociomedical world of today. To examine the construction of the standardized body in modern anatomy this project utilizes a feminist constructionist framework in conducting a thematic visual analysis of 215 Early Modern anatomical illustrations. In the first theme, Western Canon, the analysed illustrations are contextualized within the greater Western European stylistic canon. This theme is used to discuss how background composition styles of anatomical illustrations all throughout the Early Modern period worked to communicate “realness” and authenticity to their audiences, which further normalized an unrealistic adherence to specific body types seen in said illustrations. Also demonstrated is the way in which the prolific use of contrapposto across all time periods featured in my study is symbolic of both the desire to create beauty in the images and the ongoing importance of antiquity to the formation of the Western Canon. The second theme, Ideal Body Types, is used to explore how the adoption of a “two-sex” model of understanding human sexual differences combined with prescribed gendered roles created the two standard human body types, the “man” and the “woman”. Also discussed is the overarching Western European ideals of “whiteness” which permeate anatomical illustrations across the Early Modern period. The conclusion of this thesis is a call for a more inclusive, variation-focused anatomy, and practical first steps are suggested.