Elizabeth I and her People

Our painting of John Banister delivering an anatomical lecture is currently on display at a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London: Elizabeth I and her People. This show explores the remarkable reign of Elizabeth I through the lives and portraiture of her subjects.

John Banister delivering an anatomy lecture

John Banister delivering an anatomy lecture (MS Hunter 364)

We have loaned our portrait of John Banister (1533-1610). He was an exceptional Elizabethan medical practitioner, qualified both as a surgeon and physician. He was appointed as Reader in Anatomy of the Company of Barbers and Surgeons in 1581.

This is the frontispiece to a set of anatomical tables commissioned by Banister, probably as visual aids for teaching. The painting depicts Banister delivering the Visceral Lecture at Barber-Surgeon’s Hall in 1581. It echoes the famous dissection scene found at the beginning of Vesalius’s Fabrica. Banister is shown placing a proprietary hand on the dissected body; standing next to him are the two masters of anatomy, one with a scalpel, the other with a probe. He is teaching from a second edition of the De re anatomica by Realdo Colombo (Paris: 1562). Advances in Tudor surgery were dependent upon the availability of anatomical texts, and one of Banister’s great attributes was his ability to read and translate for his pupils up to date Renaissance textbooks that had been published on the Continent in Latin.

The portrait will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery until 5 January 2014. However, if you are not able to make it to London, one of the other paintings from this set of tables is currently on display in the Hunterian Museum. This painting depicts anatomical instruments and the order in which they are used in dissection “as th’art requireth”; in this scene, vivisections of a dog and a pig are shown, with a live monkey awaiting its fate on a dissecting table. Experiments on live animals were common in the 16th century, as surgeons strived to understand the physiology of bodies.

Anatomical instruments and vivisection

Anatomical instruments and vivisection (MS Hunter 364)

Categories: Special Collections

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1 reply


  1. La vivisezione animale alla nascita della medicina moderna | Fatti di scienza

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