since i can remember, i’ve been plagued by the images of the dutch paintings of anatomy lessons: rembrandt’s 1632 painting; the anatomy lesson of dr. nicolaes tulp and van mierevelt’s anatomy lesson of dr. willem van der meer, 1617. i only got around to see the former in the mauritshuis, the hague last year for the first time. besides the usual interest i have in being confronted with iconic artworks that i’ve only known as reproductions in books or prints, this work in particular worked it’s way into my psyche. i suppose age and bodily frailty somewhat changed my perceptions of it. the relationship with our bodies has always been an interesting construct to me; throw in cultural differences and notions of beauty, and it becomes a complex study of our existence and identity. it is the most natural thing after all, a question of life and death - for what else determines that than our bodily function.
re-experiencing the burden of puberty with my eldest daughter and her search of self is enough of a reminder of how susceptible we are to the perceptions of those around us, and thanks to the deluge of global connectivity, we are no longer isolated communities but instead have such an enormous variety to find our acceptance in. the dichotomy of this is obvious but whichever notion one entertains, we are prisoners of our bodies and they are the singular most powerful reminder of our existence no matter what descartes says.
on this point, the work of richard sawdon smith strikes me as a contemporary reminder of this relationship between the body and the self. his photographic explorations depicts near medieval concepts in a thoroughly modern way. although obscured by its own autobiography, the message is still clear and provides a thought provoking view on surviving ourselves.