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Art and Anatomy: An Audience with Dr William Hunter

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A free online event, part of the Art History Festival, which is taking place from 20-25 September.

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Around the year 1770, the artist Johan Zoffany painted his friend Dr William Hunter teaching anatomy to a class at the Royal Academy (RA). Zoffany’s painting is now owned by the Royal College of Physicians.. Hunter was appointed as the first lecturer of anatomy at the RA shortly after it was founded in 1768, to give artists a greater understanding of the human form and improve their life drawing.

In this painting the spheres of art and medicine are united, and a closer inspection by Sarah Backhouse reveals a fascinating, alternative insight into the preferred pastimes of upper-class Georgian society. The events in the painting appear to be gentile, erudite and sanitary, and tell us much about the teaching of art and anatomy –but there is more to the painting than first meets the eye. The spectacle that Hunter has created hides the uncomfortable and truly gruesome reality of anatomical teaching, and the audience he has assembled hints at grave social injustices.

Today Zoffany’s painting remains an enigma. It may not show what it purports to represent: who are the mysterious, unidentified individuals attending Dr Hunter’s lecture, and why are they there? Is this scene actually set at the RA, and who commissioned the painting in the first place? This talk aims to explore the wide range of themes that Zoffany’s painting encompasses, as well as the hidden narratives that may cause us to pause for thought and give this painting a closer look.

This event is delivered by the Royal College of Physicians.

The full Art History Festival programme is available here: https://forarthistory.org.uk/art-history-festival-programme/

About the Association for Art History

The Association for Art History shapes the future for art history. Through advocacy, events, networks, membership, grants and publications, we celebrate and promote the value of art history and visual culture today.

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The Association for Art History is the leading subject association for art history in the UK.

We believe that art history inspires people to think differently and see differently. We champion the value of art history today and help shape its future. We do this by supporting the professional practice and public understanding of art history through our events, advocacy, resources, grants and membership.

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