Robert Knox and the anatomy of beauty.Med Humanit. 2011 Jun; 37(1):46-50.MH
Robert Knox (1791-1862) is typically remembered as the Edinburgh anatomist to whom the murderers Burke and Hare sold the bodies of their victims. This association brought Knox infamy and damaged his life and career. Before the Burke and Hare scandal, Knox was one of the most famous, original and influential anatomists in Britain. He was also something of a dandy with a sophisticated appreciation of the visual arts. His most significant writings on artistic subjects were his books A Manual of Artistic Anatomy and Great Artists and Great Anatomists: A Biographical and Philosophical Study. Knox's interesting and independently minded opinions on the central artistic questions of his day were taken seriously by his contemporaries. His demotion in the official history of anatomy following his involvement with Burke and Hare, however, also removed him from the history of art theory in 19th century Britain. Knox was such a magnetic and impressive figure, though, that he has to be brought back to his era and his era is not complete without him. This paper discusses how Knox's writings on anatomy and biology shaped his contributions to art theory. It is a first step towards returning Knox, the art theorist, to the cultural life of 19th century Britain.