Anatomy Inside Rodin’s Hands
August 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
As impressive as the Rodin collection at Stanford University’s Cantor Art Center – one of the largest in the world, with 200 works in all – most of them are not one and only edition of the artist’s masterpieces. As part of his bequest, Auguste Rodin authorized the Nation of France to continue to cast his works poshumously, either from his original plaster molds or from molds newly taken from his plasters. Up to twelve examples of each size can be cast of each of Rodin’s works.
However, a recent exhibition at the museum (on view April 9 – August 3), inspired by the great artist’s sculptures of human hands, was truly one of its kind.
A multidisciplinary collaboration between the Cantor Art Center and Dr. James Chang, a hand reconstruction surgeon at Stanford’s School of Medicine, supported by the School’s Division of Clinical Anatomy and the Lane Medical Library, “Inside Rodin’s Hands: Art, Technology, and Surgery” looked at the artist’s powerful depictions of hands with an anatomical eye, aided by cutting-edge technologies such as 3D imaging and augmented reality. Take for example Left Hand of Eustache de Saint-Pierre. The images and video clip here illustrate the three-dimension, anatomical view for visitors to see “beneath the skin”, with imaginary bones, nerves and blood vessels:
A revolutionary artist, Auguste Rodin broke from the classical traditions of idealizing the human form. Scouting models in the streets of Paris, he would be particularly drawn to the hands and bodies marred by the harsh conditions of 19th century life and labor. The injuries or diseases causing the deformities enriched the meaning for him, making his sculpted figures much more expressive and powerful.
Dr. James Chang has been fascinated by Rodin’s sculptures since his undergraduate days at Stanford, when he frequently visited the Rodin Sculpture Garden. Later, training in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the School of Medicine, he brought his family to Cantor on Thursday evenings, enjoying dinner at the Café, while watching his toddler daughters play next to the Rodin collection. The more he looked at Rodin’s representations of the hand, the more he saw a striking similarity with actual conditions of his own reconstructive surgery patients, such as Dupuytrens contracture, Apert syndrome, ganglion cyst, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, thumb amputation, fracture and stiff joint. These observations led to his creation of an undergraduate course entitled: “Surgical Anatomy of the Hand: From Rodin to Reconstruction”. Stanford students across all disciplines, including Arts and Humanities, can attend the seminar, where they dissect human limbs and learn about reconstructive surgery techniques, while appreciating the incredible collection of Rodin’s artworks. The “augmented reality” created from 3D scans of the sculptures combined with CT scans of patients’ hands reveals the pathologies beneath the bronze hands for students to identify, and even perform virtual surgery. The final assignment is to choose a Rodin hand and discuss a surgical solution to the predicted anatomical problem.
The course eventually inspired the exhibition, allowing museum visitors to experience Rodin’s hands the same manner as Dr. Chang’s students. On display surrounding the precious sculptures were students’ diagnoses and reflections of their corresponding medical conditions, for example Large Clunched Left Hand, whose gesture is symptomatic of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
“I wanted to participate in this exhibition for the same reason I introduced Rodin into my seminar: to get students in the humanities excited about the sciences, and to get doctors to step out of the hospital to appreciate art.” Explained Dr. Chang. “I have found that artists and surgeons appreciate human anatomy with equal passion.”