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Dissertation Medal Winner 1999

The Barber-Surgeons' Anatomy Theatre

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Susannah Bach
University of Cambridge Cambridge UK
This frame coagmented for the service of the Soule we have compared to the whole world or universe.?

In 1638 the first dissection was performed in the newly built anatomy theatre of the Barber-Surgeons? Company in the City of London. The Barber-Surgeons had commissioned Inigo Jones to design the theatre and it was the third in Europe after those at Padua and Leiden.

The essay considers the form, internal arrangement and ornamentation of the anatomy theatre through an understanding of contemporary intellectual thought, in particular the cosmological and theological aspects of anatomy. A Neoplatonic view of the universe is illustrated by the work of Helkiah Crooke and Robert Fludd both of whom were Barber-Surgeons and members of Jones?s circle. Man feared that anatomisation would prevent the passage of his soul to heaven. Anatomy played a part in the system of judicial punishment, and order had to prevail over disorder.
The significance of the amphitheatre form as a representation of the ?theatre of the world? is considered. Study of the original drawings for the theatre reveals that the setting out of the oval, following Serlio, is based on geometrical proportioning, seen as an emulation of the cosmic and human structuring of the universe: ?compared to the whole world or universe.?
The different strata within the building are then discussed: first the lower ground dissecting rooms and then the three strata within the main theatre: the auditorium and its ?degrees? of seating, the wall ornamentation and finally the cosmological and astrological decoration on the concave ceiling. Its vertical stratification is analogous to Neoplatonic concepts of the body and universe and demonstrates hierachy and stability within society. It can also be viewed as a representation of beliefs on death and judgement, sanctioning anatomy and metaphorically aiding the passage of the soul to the after-life: ?for the service of the Soule.?

Inigo Jones?s theatres designed for plays have been well documented but little has been written about his links with the London medical profession. Although the theatre was demolished at the end of the eighteenth century, drawings, records from the Barber-Surgeons? Company and contemporary descriptions have been examined to provide a picture of this unique building and an insight into the lives and beliefs of seventeenth century Londoners.

Susannah Bach


This dissertation was submitted as an example of excellence both in its historical research and in its theoretical framework. The author's ideas range impressively across medical theory, philosophy, architectural history and archaeology. The first section explains the circumstances of the building of Inigo Jones's anatomy theatre for the Barber Surgeons (based on new archival material and surviving visual documentation) and its relationship to the medical profession and intellectual context of the period. The second section explores the complex relationship between the ideal of the body in architectural theory and the anatomical study of the body. The third section analyses the building using the vertical zones transgressed in both time and space within it, tracing the eschatological path from the perceived violation of the criminal's remains in the basement to the realm of Christian redemption in the dome.

1999
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