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Image of the Week: Female torso

20 May, 2016

L0019727 Gautier d'Agoty, mezzotint ecorche female torso, back, 1746

This week, Catherine Draycott, Head of Wellcome Images, picks out her favourite image in the collection. 

This image captivated me the moment I first saw it over 20 years ago.  Obviously, it has a very strong initial impact; at first it seems as if the woman is wearing a high collared cape. As you look at the image, the detail emerges revealing her back as viciously flayed open from orbit to sacrum showing the ribcage and muscles of her back whilst she, apparently unperturbed, glances nonchalantly over her shoulder.

The artist was working with an anatomist, J. F. Duverney (d 1748), to produce these amazing colour prints working from the anatomist’s dissections.

Gautier d’Agoty had learned the three colour technique, the first of its kind, from Jacob Christoph le Blon (1667-1741) with whom he worked as an assistant. D’Agoty added black to the three colours, giving greater depth and shading to the resulting prints and resulting in a much more lifelike appearance, especially when used for a subject such as this.

The prints have a velvety quality with none of the harsh lines of etching or other forms of engraving. Along with the depth of naturalistic colour, this conveys the fleshy depths and surfaces of the human body in a way that had never been done before and also allowed it to be reproducible in a printed volume.

Other work by d’Agoty is available in the Library and on the Wellcome Images website.

Credit: Jaques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty, Ecorche figure showing the muscles and bones of a woman’s back, mezzotint colour print 1746.


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