Using A 3-D Version Of Rodin’s Hands To Understand Anatomy
Auguste Rodin is known for his realistic, unflinching depiction of the human form. Some of the French sculptor’s work even shows the ravages of disease and disfigurement. A Stanford University professor and surgeon who noticed these realistic details was inspired to incorporate Rodin into his teaching using a curriculum that combines Rodin’s sculpture with medical science and computer technology.
Dr. James Chang first noticed certain details of Rodin’s sculptures when he was a medical resident at Stanford studying hand surgery. He used to relax on the grass at the sculpture garden of the school's Cantor Arts Center. “The more I looked at the Rodin sculptures … and I focused on the hands, and if you look at each hand … they’re exactly like the actual medical conditions I was treating.”
The works include some of Rodin’s most famous pieces, like the Burghers of Calais, a group of defeated noblemen. Chang noticed that one of the Burghers had fused fingers. “We have children with Apert syndrome that have a similar fusion of the fingers and an open thumb, and we release the fingers to put [them] into a more natural condition,” he says.
When he finished his residency in 1998, Chang joined the Stanford faculty in plastic surgery, and he decided to consult an expert on Rodin. He went to Bernard Barryte, the curator of European art at the Cantor. Barryte says what made Rodin a revolutionary artist is that he broke from the classical traditions of idealizing the human form.
“He wants to render it warts and all,” Barryte says. “So if a hand is the result of an accident, that sort of enhances and enriches its meaning for him, and he uses that to render figures much more expressive and much more powerful.”