Famous Paintings: “Anatomy of the Heart” by Enrique Simonet y Lombardo

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“The Spanish painter Enrique Simonet y Lombardo, in the last year of the nineteenth century, … produced an admirable canvas showing the anatomic exploration of a woman’s body. … an old man holds in his hand the heart he has just extracted from the cadaver. The professor gazes at it admiringly, as though he might be able to discover in this mass of muscle and blood a trace of feeling, a last breath of life. … the pictorial argument rests on the opposition between the objective and the subjective; the civilized and the savage; the masculine and the feminine. … The solitude of this figure in black, who contemplates with incredulity the trophy he has just ripped from the body, is more than just slightly perturbing. The axis of the painting is the triangle formed by the heart in the anatomist’s left hand, the scalpel in his right hand, and his sad, almost perplexed, ecstatic and incredulous expression as he contemplates the remains of the dead young woman. The painting’s marked chiaroscuro, the contrast in light between scientific activity and the deathly passivity, the profile of the anatomist and the foreshortening of the corpse, along with the neutral background of the room, make up the basic themes of the work. The painting was initially called “And She Had a Heart!”, and only later came to be known as ‘Anatomy of the Heart.’ ”

Javier Moscoso, Pain: A Cultural History

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23 Responses to Famous Paintings: “Anatomy of the Heart” by Enrique Simonet y Lombardo

  1. Katalina4 says:

    The first title is kind of more fitting to the image, I think, but maybe he shied away from it as it seems to underline the weirdness even more?

  2. Don says:

    Both beautiful and deeply disturbing, Monika. I too prefer the the first title. The contrast between the staring at the heart and the lifeless body of the woman captures for me the relationship between cold reason and feeling. For me the motif of the masculine and feminine is very strong. It somehow depicts for me the deeply saddening thread in history of the masculine removing the heart of the feminine. The written description is absolutely marvellous. So much that can be said about this. Thanks Monika. I want to stay with this image for a while. You really got me thinking.

    • Thank you very much, Don, for your sensitivity. The painting speaks volumes to me. I also had associations with the ancient Egyptian weighing of the heart. But of course mainly I thought about the repression of the feminine because that’s one of the subjects I feel very strongly about.

  3. Monika – a dead body often does that to you – provoke a thought about what those lips could tell or told, what warmth that bosom felt, what even that hair held back now could fly in the wind – the body when the soul that could do all those things has fled?

  4. The sponge is like her brain with its triangular relationship to her hair and the heart in his hand. And of course he is looking through…glass. All very disturbing on many levels. But powerful.

    • Well spotted. I am reminded of a quote by Adam Mickiewicz, a Polish poet of Romanticism: “Feeling and faith speak more clearly to me than the lenses and eye of the scientist.”

  5. I’ve never seen this picture before, but it struck me as an eerie foreshadowing of the century that was to come, which hadn’t quite crystalized yet. I found most of the associated text cliched, as in “round up the usual dichotomies.” Stuff we’ve heard dozens of times before that distracts from power of this particular image.

  6. Interesting painting. I see something else here, though. I see it as symbolic of the critical mind trying to comprehend the emotional self, or on a larger scale, the Rational trying to grasp the Romantic. You could even add a Jungian interpretation here, where the two represent the animus and anima. If you took that path, the male psyche has subjugated and essentially killed the feminine part of the self, and is now analyzing that part of the self but not fully able to comprehend, even gazing into the heart of the matter.

    OK, now back to writing technical manuals. 😉

    • You write technical manuals?? About your interpretations, it is very, very close to my heart (pun intended). Thanks!

      • Ha Ha! Yeah, there’s no money in writing blog posts (or playing guitar for that matter). I learned quickly that if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to write stuff that pays money, so since I am somewhat of a geek, writing computer manuals seemed like a perfect fit.

  7. renatembell says:

    Very much in sync with Stuff Jeff Reads’ comment…or maybe it is a preference! Another very thought-provoking post.

  8. VMG says:

    The image reminds me very much of one from a Hollywood film — People Will Talk. I don’t know if you’ve written about that movie, but I would love to know your take on it. The film opens with an anatomy class. A cadaver of a young woman is being examined by Cary Grant as Dr. Praetorius. He asks the students to imagine her as she was. The word abortion is never uttered in the movie and no explicit references to abortion are made, but it’s not unlikely the young woman whose body appears in tact and beautiful, died by her own hand or from an illegal abortion. The plot of the film is set in motion by another young woman — very much alive — who consults with the doctor, possibly hoping he’d be sympathetic to her own unwanted pregnancy.
    I have no idea whether or not the filmmakers were aware of the painting, but I can’t help but wonder how the young woman on the table died. It would make perfect sense in those circumstances that the the doctor would be examining her heart and the mysteries contained therein.

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  12. Rosslynruiz says:

    I saw this painting over twenty years ago in the plcaso musium in malaga Spain. I. Have never forgotten it .idident note the name of the artist but on a visit to the musium this year I was disappointed that it was no longer there but one of the staff was familia with the painting and gave me the artists name .I am a professional artist myself and have been so for fifty four years and have never bean more touched by a work of art R ruiz

  13. Linda says:

    The painting is now in the museum of Malaga ,opened up a few weeks ago. I saw it there today.

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