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We will be open to Friends of the RA from Thursday 9 July, and to the public from 16 July. Find out more and plan your visit.


The Anatomy Professor

Doctors, Death and Dining at the RA

The Tennant Gallery, Burlington House, Piccadilly

18 Jan — 17 Mar 2019

Celebrating 250 years of the Royal Academy Schools, this display introduces the teachers who brought bodies, bones and brains into the artist’s studio, and made anatomy an essential part of their training.

When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768, a leading physician was brought in to teach the RA Schools’ first students about human anatomy.

The pioneering anatomist William Hunter was known to bring bodies – usually those of executed criminals – into the Schools for dissection, inviting art students to examine in great detail how the body fits together. In doing so, Hunter set the foundations for 250 years of anatomical teaching, and left a legacy of important anatomical art works that the RA holds today.

Threaded with rumours of body-snatching and skulduggery, this display introduces the first Professor of Anatomy and the string of colourful characters who came after him. The reinterpretations of Hunter’s role were often influenced by the particular specialisms of their professor – ranging from embryology to hot-air ballooning. One professor is known to have passed brains around his class on a plate, and even brought in Chinese jugglers to allow the students to examine their musculature. One thing many had in common, however, was an appetite for dining and drinking – one even running the RA Dining Club. In this display, their stories are told through portraits, drawings and sculpture – including a striking plaster cast of a flayed cadaver made by Hunter.

250 years on, art teaching has changed dramatically but the anatomy professorship is one that still exists at the RA Schools – and this display marks the retirement of the RA’s longest-serving Professor of Anatomy, Gerald Libby, who this year steps down from the post after 43 years.

18 January — 17 March 2019

Daily 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 10pm

Free, no booking required.

The Tennant Gallery, Burlington House, Piccadilly