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TO JULY 31, 2003
“The interior of our bodies is hidden to us,” reads the introduction to “Dream Anatomy,” an exhibit of anatomical drawings currently on display at the National Library of Medicine. “What happens beneath the skin is mysterious, fearful, amazing.” Not to mention obscene. The exhibit offers up countless portraits of the human body stripped of its skin and hacked open for our viewing pleasure. From aboriginal cave drawings to 20th-century holographs, the collection demonstrates how the art of anatomy has evolved over the course of human history, gradually moving from imagination to empiricism, from speculation to science. Along the way, individuals such as 16th-century artist Charles Estienne regaled their audiences with anatomical sketches both beautiful and horrific. In one of Estienne’s works (pictured), a skeleton stands upright, scowling out at an apocalyptic sky, his frame surrounded by a swirling storm of snakelike tendons; in another, a topless, pregnant woman sits in repose; a cut-away section of her abdomen reveals the fetal child within. Overall, the exhibition successfully swings back and forth between morbid voyeurism and clinical detachment. For those of us who once spent countless hours in biology class trying to visualize our own medulla oblongatas, loops of Henley, and pyloric sphincters, “Dream Anatomy” offers another chance to revel in the blood and guts of dissection—only this time without a scalpel. The exhibition is on view from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Wednesdays and Fridays, from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, and from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays (call for holiday hours), to Thursday, July 31, 2003, at the National Library of Medicine, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda. Free. (301) 402-8878. (Felix Gillette)