Unlike the title page of the De humani corporis fabrica of Vesalius (1543, 1555), the title page of Realdo Columbo’s De re anatomica (1559) has received relatively little critical comment. A careful study of Columbo’s iconography reveals a theoretical and symbolically veiled defense of human vivisection in keeping with Columbo’s ancient anatomical guides Herophilus and Erasistratus, who were themselves reputed to have vivisected human beings. Columbo’s title page further links art and anatomy in a highly ritualized spectacle of human vivisection that foregrounds the projected partnership between Columbo and Michelangelo. Finally, the essay suggests the possibility that the figure of Bartholomew in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment may have been modeled after Columbo, offering a new context in which to view Michelangelo’s self-portrait in the flayed skin.
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