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Visualizing Disease

The Art and History of Pathological Illustrations

Visual anatomy books have been a staple of medical practice and study since the mid-sixteenth century. But the visual representation of diseased states followed a very different pattern from anatomy, one we are only now beginning to investigate and understand. With Visualizing Disease, Domenico Bertoloni Meli explores key questions in this domain, opening a new field of inquiry based on the analysis of a rich body of arresting and intellectually challenging images reproduced here both in black and white and in color.
Starting in the Renaissance, Bertoloni Meli delves into the wide range of figures involved in the early study and representation of disease, including not just men of medicine, like anatomists, physicians, surgeons, and pathologists, but also draftsmen and engravers. Pathological preparations proved difficult to preserve and represent, and as Bertoloni Meli takes us through a number of different cases from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century, we gain a new understanding of how knowledge of disease, interactions among medical men and artists, and changes in the technologies of preservation and representation of specimens interacted to slowly bring illustration into the medical world.

288 pages | 36 color plates, 36 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2017

Art: Art--General Studies

Biological Sciences: Anatomy

History: History of Technology

History of Science



"Bertoloni Meli presents a well-researched, comprehensive treatment of what might be called a historical account of medical disease illustration and its contribution to the advancement of medicine. At first, the only diseased tissues available for study were bones (obtained from cadavers), as they did not undergo change over time. Various kinds of diseased tissues gradually became available from other sources, such as hospitals and the private collections of physicians and others. The use of color in the illustrations increased their usefulness and value, and they soon found a natural home in scientific books and articles. Illustrations of cutaneous diseases provided ideal samples for study of the natural progression of a disease. Multiple examples of early illustrations are found in the text, with the artists themselves identified. Bertoloni Meli has an engaging writing style with a good flow and clear control of his subject matter. Included are 20 pages of notes and a thorough bibliography of 31 pages. Highly recommended."


“Behind our current interest in making such cellular and bodily transformations attractive and accessible lies a much longer history of pathological illustration, a territory that is ably introduced by Domenico Bertoloni Meli.”

Times Higher Education

"An outstanding feature of the book is the comprehensive account of the medical men, the artists, and their collaboration. Sometimes, the same person fulfilled both roles. The biographical information, a remarkable achievement of academic research, would by itself make the book a unique reference resource. But it is far more, reflecting as it does the changes in concepts of disease, technical advances in preservation of organs and creation of images for publication, and the ambitions and careers of individual doctors and artists."

British Society for the History of Medicine

"Dense with substantive details about the shift that began in the mid-seventeenth century in the way disease was conceptualized. . . . The images of the diseased body displayed in this volume are beautiful, astonishingly so, in many cases. . . . This is above all a necessary and significant history of pathology and pathological illustration that will appeal primarily to scholars in the field."

Journal of the History of Biology

"Absorbing reading. It is an outstandingly well-structured, researched, and documented book, a signifcant contribution to the history of early modern science and medicine.


"This is a groundbreaking book, in that it addresses for the first time in a comprehensive way this neglected but ever-present, indeed unavoidable, topic in the development of modern medicine. . . . An impressive range of detailed, beautifully reproduced pathological illustration enrich the book."


"There is a long and distinguished tradition of scholarship on the history of anatomical illustration, Domenico Bertoloni Meli rightly observes, but somehow scholars have scanted what is perhaps an even larger category of medical image production—pathological
illustration. Visualizing Disease, erudite, profusely illustrated, richly documented, begins to rectify that omission. . . . Meli is an expert guide, [giving] readers the basics and the topic a useable history. . . . generously illustrated and richly informative."

Journal of the History of Medicine

"This book brings together, with very interesting results, two fields that have traditionally been kept separate: the history of pathology and the history of visual culture. . . . What emerges from Bertoloni Meli’s study is the picture of a practice enlivened by a multiplicity of actors and characterized by different but intersecting ways of producing visual representations of diseases. This book—which is richly illustrated, including some impressive color plates—will thus appeal not only to medical and science historians but to a larger readership with an interest in the history of printing, visual culture, and sensibilities. . . . Meli’s volume has the merit of showing how such a study can be carried out and how this kind of approach can fruitfully contribute to our understanding of the history of pathology and medicine more broadly."


"There is a long and distinguished tradition of scholarship on the history of anatomical illustration, Domenico Bertoloni Meli rightly observes, but somehow scholars have scanted what is perhaps an even larger category of medical image production—pathological illustration. Visualizing Disease, erudite, profusely illustrated, richly documented, begins to rectify that omission."

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"A knowledgeable and authoritative survey of many of the most historically significant early works of pathological illustration. . . . It is a wonderfully illustrated and much-needed study that will be an essential reference for many historians of medicine, and especially those working on pathology, medical illustrations, representations of disease and any of the several historical figures featured among its pages. Visualizing Disease will inspire pathologists interested in the history of their discipline and, hopefully, future scholars exploring the history of pathology."

Medical History

"Bertoloni Meli guides the reader across a large number of exemplary cases, thanks to which we discover that knowledge of disease, the interaction between physicians and artists, and the progress in the technologies of conservation and representation of the preparations, slowly led visualization to become a fundamental tool in medical practice."

Corriere della Sera

"A work that was crying out to be written. Exhaustive, learned, and a gold mine for specialists, yet wholly accessible for nonspecialists. And in a field—anatomical pathology—that's not lent itself easily to graphical exposition, Bertoloni Meli's volume is just gorgeous in its pictorial depiction of changing notions of disease."

Russell Maulitz, MD PhD

“This is an excellent book, based on extraordinarily vast, solid, and innovative research. In his previous books, Bertoloni Meli has already made very important contributions to the history of early modern science and medicine. Visualizing Disease offers an even more significant and original contribution, the first detailed and richly documented history of morbid anatomy illustration from the sixteenthto the ninteenthcentury.”

Gianna Pomata, Johns Hopkins University

Table of Contents


Introduction: Bodies, Diseases, Images
Chapter 1. Visualizing Disease in the Early Modern Period
Chapter 2: “Sic nata est anatome pathologica picta”: The Diseases of Bones
Chapter 3. Preserved Specimens and Comprehensive Treatises
Chapter 4. Intermezzo: Identifying Disease in Its Inception
Chapter 5. The Nosology of Cutaneous Diseases
Chapter 6. Morbid Anatomy in Color
Chapter 7. Comprehensive Treatises in Color
Concluding Reflections
Illustration Credits
List of Abbreviations

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