In this article, you’ll learn about the history of medical art, from its classic beginnings in painting and sculpture to its current status as a thriving field of contemporary art. You’ll also get a glimpse into some of the latest trends in this field.


Medical art is an interesting blend of two different disciplines: anatomy (the study of the human body) and art. Medical artists use their knowledge of anatomy to create accurate depictions of the human body. Although the actual procedures are not part of a medical artist’s routine, they need extensive training in anatomy to accurately depict these as well.


Classical and Renaissance Periods

The history of medical art begins with classic works in painting and sculpture. Historically, artists were primarily responsible for rendering humans or human figures since these were considered the most beautiful subjects available. This made for some interesting distortions as can be seen in many classical works depicting women (who were typically thought to embody beauty).


During the Renaissance period, it became more acceptable to depict medical scenes. This was due in part to the growth of anatomy as a specialized field of study.


Renaissance Period

During the Renaissance period, art took on a much more important role in medicine. The artistic ability was thus overshadowed by the need for an expert knowledge of anatomy. Artists frequently portrayed medical scenes (e.g., Durer’s Anatomy Lesson) and were highly sought-after as an educational resource for aspiring physicians.


Late Renaissance and 18th Century

By the time of the late Renaissance and throughout the 18th century, anatomical drawings became much more common in medical schools. David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) is credited with popularizing human anatomy by creating detailed and accurate pieces. These were so reliable they could be printed as anatomical textbooks. In addition, artists began to specialize in subjects outside of painting human forms—such as plants and animals. This further increased their skillset to include a wide range of subjects that could be used in paintings or illustrations of anatomy.

The History of Medical Art

The History of Medical Art

19th Century

In the 19th century, medical art was at its peak. It was highly regarded as an art-form and was often used in textbooks to teach students of medicine. In addition, there were several books that taught artists how to draw or create medical illustrations by breaking down complicated anatomy into easy sections. These included many of the same authors as the previous books we mentioned. (Dr. Hesselius for example published his book in 1871).


20th Century

By the 20th century, however, medical illustrations were losing popularity with artists who preferred more exciting subjects such as landscapes and scenes from daily life. In addition, medical illustrations began to be regarded as too simple for the more complex styles of modern art.


Contemporary Medical Art

Today, medical art is experiencing a resurgence within the field of medicine. In fact, some careers in this field include such titles as scientific illustrator and medical artist. Many hospitals and health clinics are also looking for artistic renditions of procedures that can be used in promotional materials or on their website.


In general, these works are not meant to replace typical textbooks but instead provide more detail for patients or others who prefer an artistic depiction over a text-based one.

Modern Trends

As medical art continues to grow, there are several trends that are emerging. One such trend is the emphasis on realism. Realistic art emphasizes careful attention to detail in an effort to produce works that are as accurate as possible in their depictions.


This emphasis on accuracy is especially important when it comes to depicting anatomy, which can be quite complex. One of the most important tasks for medical illustrators is the meticulous depiction of tiny details that can have a significant impact on how a procedure appears. This means working closely with medical experts to ensure accuracy and understanding of all procedures or anatomical parts involved.


Anatomical Arts are on the Rise!

In the past, medical artists were primarily responsible for rendering humans or human figures. At present, there are many individuals within the field of medicine who dedicate time to drawing detailed anatomical illustrations.


There are a variety of reasons why anatomy is becoming more popular among medical illustrators. One is that today’s surgeons and other doctors demand more realistic depictions of human anatomy in order to make informed decisions about procedures. Several books have been published in recent years that illustrate the same procedures step by step with accurate anatomical diagrams.


Medical Illustrators also work closely with medical experts by creating full-color illustrations that depict not only the human anatomy but also how each part attaches to other parts. They can also help educate doctors on how to perform a procedure more safely and accurately.


The Future of Medical Art

Medical art could very well become the next major field of art. Many medical clinics and hospitals are hiring dedicated medical artists in order to enhance their materials with realistic depictions of procedures, human anatomy, or other aspects of health care. It is not uncommon for institutions to hire a medical artist on staff since this can be a huge benefit for those who work in the medial field.



Medical art is often referred to as “medical illustration” because its practitioners study anatomy and then apply this information in their work, whether creating portraits, illustration or scientific illustrations.



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