Leonard Baskin, Thomas Rowlandson and The Art of Healing and Health Care in India
The thirteen drawings reproduced in this limited-edition portfolio represent the creative response of Leonard Baskin to a commission respectfully suggested to him by Editions Medicina Rara. The portfolio was from its conception to be an abbreviated work. It is so in the sense that the economic practicalities of publishing and the challenges inherent in the fidelity of reproduction require the quantum of drawings to be limited to the number chosen. This work is of historical moment and is unique in that it is the first anatomical portfolio by an artist of renown to be seriously published in the twentieth century. It is being published at a time when in the artist' own words 'The art of our time is an act of cowardice, a triumph of the trivial, a squandering of treasure.'
These drawings by Leonard Baskin are an almost inevitable extension of his lifetime commitment to the complicated exploration of man by man in a range of artistic media. Baskin said, 'Man must rediscover man, harried and brutalized, distended and eviscerated but noble withal, rich in intention, puissant in creative spur, and enduring in the posture of love.'
Anatomical illustrations and their assemblages from the Fabrica of Vesalius in 1543 through their dwindling output in the last half of the nineteenth century were essentially created and reproduced to serve as tools of learning and a reference resource in the development of diagnostic and therapeutic medical skills. Many of these works which have endured by virtue of their beauty, scholarly import, or artistic merits seem to have qualities which transcend the illustration of the human figure as a craft ---- important as craftsmanship may be per se. Some of these images seem even hundreds of years later to make a profound statement about man through the portrayal of his physicality. Often they permit a kind of hopeful insight into the elusive grandeur of men and women in spite of the brutal and unrelenting frustration of their vulnerable posture within an attacking social environment. The skillfully created anatomical atlases generated over a period of several centuries served a function rendered apparently unnecessary with the advent of photomechanical image-making facilities that could not only reflect the surface of the human figure but even penetrate it.
These contemporary drawings, however, were created by the artist without the necessity of concern for scientific accuracy and logical sequence. Conscious and measured distortion of the figure, organs, muscles, bones, digits and sensory elements, in these drawings compounds a directness and ambiguity that provokes the beholder to interpret a condition probably beyond comprehension. They proclaim the mortality of man without screaming a conclusion. They are done by an artist who almost ten years ago said to an interviewing reporter: 'I love language, and write evangelistic hortatory articles in a very baroque style. Good artists have often written well. But I can't find any verbal equivalents for what I'm trying to say in my work. My uniqueness lies in my strange characters inhabiting their own space. I can't really tell you in words what they stand for. All I can say is that I think man, however debased, paunchy, and victimized by a malign world, is still glorious.'
Text attributable to Editions Medicina Rara, Ltd.
The Doctor Dissected: Twelve Medical Caricatures, Thomas Rowlandson (Editions Medicina Rara Ltd.)
"From Hogarth on, many an English artist with a flair for satire has found a ready target in the foibles and follies of the medical profession. But it was during the long and reactionary reign of George III, and at the hands of Thomas Rowlandson, England's famous caricaturist, that this legitimate sport was carried to its extreme. Certainly no artist in history (Daumier not excepted) has poised a more caustic pencil at the shams, failures, and generally antisocial behavior of the medical practitioner. Now Rowlandson can by no means be regarded as a moralist or even a humanitarian; his role is rather that of a strangely aloof, dispassionate, yet sardonic recorder of every conceivable aspect of the human comedy as it was acted out in the late Georgian and Regency period…
One must admit that there were valid reasons for the low regard in which the profession was held during most of the artist's lifetime. Laws regulating the practice of medicine were poorly defined, often disregarded, and never seriously enforced, thus permitting quacks and nostrum-vendors to flourish like locusts… more disquieting was the fact that while the entire breed of pulse-takers, bleeders, and pill-dispensers seemed strangely incapable of coping with any but the most common of ailments, their exorbitant fees would be met by only a handful of the well-to-do. A more enlightened generation was growing increasingly restive at the seeming lack of any serious commitment on the part of the profession to the sick and needy then pouring into the cities. Even the introduction of vaccination (1800), an event of the utmost significance in medical history, succeeded in dividing the profession into two camps, leaving the public at turns bewildered and amused at the violence of the controversy."
Saffron writes, "I should like to believe that Rowlandson had become fully aware of [the] continuing forms in medicine."
Morris H. Saffron, M.D., Ph.D., NY., NY., 1971
Healing Art in India: Twelve facsimiles from the history of Indian medicine (Editions Medicina Rara, Ltd.)
The earliest written sources of Indian medicine date from the first centuries AD and give testimony to a long previous medical tradition but these manuscripts were not illustrated – and even later Hindu art was more attached to religious themes that to everyday life. When during the thirteenth century the culture of the Islamic conquerors began to spread figurative art was not developed owing to the Koranic prohibition.
But from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, when the dynasty of the Mughal emperors reigned over great parts of India, a rich epoch of narrative illustration devoted to the Court life began to flourish, especially under the reign of the most famous Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605). Although most Court artists were Persians, the influence of Hindu culture was also taking part in this period, and from some of the best regional styles of Delhi, Deccan and the Gulhar School.