Anatomy of the Womb: Imag(in)ing Reproduction in the Discourse of Surgery

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This paper examines the role of the images pregnant female body within the historical developments of surgery and anatomy in the late eighteenth century through an analysis of three British obstetrical atlases by William Smellie (1754), Charles Nicholas Jenty (1757) and William Hunter (1774). These obstetrical atlases were hailed as ‘scientific’ representations of reproductive female anatomy during a period when surgery and anatomy was deemed a lowly manual craft, unworthy of scientific status. The paper shows how the surgeons’ claims to their scientific objectivity, based upon an anatomical view of the body, were made through reference to artistic discourses, the verisimilitude of image techniques, as well as the developing discourse of surgery as a gentlemanly and intellectual pursuit. The imaged reproductive female bodies in the atlases are shown to be technologically and discursively mediated forms, inscribed by the personal and professional aspirations of surgeon and artist in their production. Thus, whilst the visualization of the womb within the obstetrical atlases marked an historical shift towards an anatomic, hence surgical, view of the (female) body and its sexual difference, the paper shows that this shift was marked by the discourses and practices of both science and art in the imaginative production of anatomical knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-324
Number of pages15
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


  • surgery, anatomy, obstetrical images, gender, art, science, sexual difference


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