This is a print recording a lost painting by Gabriel von Max of
1869, painted in Munich. An anatomist meditates, chin in hand, on
the body of a young, beautiful woman, pulling back the cloth that
covers her body in order to gaze upon her. On the desk beside him
are open books, a lamp, and human and animal skulls. As well as
being tools of study, they function as symbols of death, as does
the moth that has alighted next to the cadaver.
Gabriel Max was himself an anatomist, philosopher and naturalist
as well as a painter very well known in his time for his singeries
(paintings of monkeys performing human tasks). His paintings evoked
the metaphysical implications of animal and human life.
The present picture could be regarded as bordering on
necrophilia, and would no doubt have been condemned by the British
art experts of the day, but the enormous popularity of such morbid
pictures as Arnold Böcklin's 'Island of the dead' (1880) attest to
the interest in pictures of such themes, however unhealthy they may