Medical atlases are used as part of the training of physicians to work with living human subjects. They are pedagogical tools used to familiarize medical personnel with the human body. Grant’s Atlas is a brilliant example of what is known as “regional anatomy.” At the turn of the twentieth century, representations of the body in medical atlases began to slowly shift as regional anatomy displaced “systems anatomy”, based upon examination of the human body system by system. Regional anatomy was particularly important in the training of surgeons who operate on a living body in a specific area and encounter the inter-relationship of all of the systems of the human body with each other in that area.
Regional anatomy divides the body into discrete areas or regions, exploring a specific region of the body from different angles and perspectives, highlighting the depths of our corporeal substrata, and showing the inter-relationship of different sections in each region. Regional anatomy is a part of what is known as “gross anatomy”—rather than presenting the body at a micro-molecular level, it produces what can be seen with the human eye.
Grant’s approach was to offer an affordable and portable single-volume text, and vernacular rather than Latin captions in place of lengthy textual descriptions. The early Atlas introduced other innovations such as realistic illustrations rather than composites. Most of the images were based on dissections that were photographed. From these photographs a tracing was produced; from the tracing a drawing was done. The drawing could be a line drawing a carbon dust drawing or a watercolour, whichever was most appropriate for the subject. The original drawings include traces of instructions and communications from the printing processes of successive editions and various publications. Illustrating Medicine includes some rare examples of all the stages of production of the illustrations.
Medical illustrators continue to develop and use techniques of visual communication that are exemplified in the artistry of the early Grant’s Atlas illustrations, but they are also use digital technologies to generate images and animations at a micro-molecular level.
Grant continued editing the Atlas through the 6th edition in 1972. The 7th (1978) and 8th (1983) editions were prepared under the direction of James Anderson. Anne Agur (University of Toronto, Division of Anatomy, Department of Surgery) began editing the Atlas with the 9th edition (1991 with Ming J. Lee). Agur currently edits the Atlas with Arthur F. Dalley; the latest edition is the 13th edition published in 2012.