Friday, July 31, 2009

The Anatomized Cavalier

[The 18th-century anatomist Honoré Fragonard created works of art out of flayed and preserved bodies (human and animal), which were displayed at the Veterinary School of Alfort.]

Joan B. Landes, "Revolutionary Anatomies," in Laura Lunger Knoppers & Joan B. Landes, eds., Monstrous Bodies/Political Monstrosities (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2004), pp. 173-4.

"The Anatomized Cavalier" (figure 35) is surely the most spectacular of all of Fragonard's surviving écorchés, testing the physical limits of natural anatomy by posing a human figure on a galloping horse. It is also the work that gave rise to the greatest speculation. Presumed by many to be modeled after one of the German artist Albrecht Dürer's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it also inspired a macabre legend recounted by another of Alfort's foreign visitors. According to a travelogue read by the Swedish naturalist Karl Asmund Rudolphi, the cavalier was Fragonard's deceased sweetheart, the daughter of a local grocer, who died from grief because of her father's opposition to a marriage with the anatomist. When questioned about this matter by Rudolphi, Fragonard remained silent but melancholy. However, the museum's guardian cleared up the matter. The "anatomized Amazon" was really a man, whose "virile attributes were a bit "shortened" in order not to disturb his seated position."[62]

62. K. A. Rudolphi, Bemerkungen aus dem Gebiet der Naturgeschichte, Medicin und Thierarzneykunde auf einter Reise durch einen Theil von Deutschland, Holland und Frankreich, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1804-5), cited in Lemire, Artistes et mortels, 172.