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Paperback | $46.00 Text | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780262691659| 7.75 x 10.75 in | August 1993

Body Criticism

Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine


Body Criticism is a celebration of visual culture as well as a major contribution to our understanding of the history of the human body. At its core is a profound exploration of the innovative strategies developed in the eighteenth century for making visible the unseeable aspects of the world. In the process it uncovers and analyzes the persistence of a remarkable set of body metaphors deriving from both aesthetic and medical practices.

For Barbara Stafford, all forms of representation are metaphors for cognitive processes in a society, and the historian's job is to reconstruct the metaphors in order to shed light on the society. Here she looks at the changing nature of images of the human body as a key to understanding the changing status of the body as western society was establishing the outlines of modernity. The six central chapters examine a remarkable range of images and representational practices under the headings Dissecting, Abstracting, Conceiving, Marking, Magnifying, and Sensing.

The importance of Body Criticism lies in its own visibilizing of previously unexplored interrelationships between art and medicine not only during the Enlightenment but now. Stafford also presents a strong argument for society's need to recognize the occurrence of a profound revolution - a radical shift from a textbased to a visually-centered culture. She offers a novel analysis of a philosophic, artistic, and scientific quest that continues in our contemporary technological search to reveal nonapparent physical and mental experience. Based on her study of the roots of this visual culture, she argues that modern societies need to develop innovative, nonlinguistic paradigms and to train a broad public in visual aptitude.

About the Author

Barbara Stafford is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Good Looking, Artful Science, Body Criticism, and Voyage into Substance (all published by MIT Press).


"[Body Criticism] establishes at one stroke a new research agenda in what may be called the 'visual sciences.' It offers an exciting and provocative analysis of the body and body metaphors in an encyclopedic work of truly international and interdisciplinary nature."
Louis Gottschalk Prize

"Stafford's book is ... full of intriguing, even intoxicating, ideas. For anyone involved with images it opens unexplored avenues of thought, forcing one to question traditional assumptions about both images and text."
Helene Roberts, Visual Resources