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Suffering Bodies, Sensible Artists. Vitalist Medicine and the Visualising of Corporeal Life in Diderot

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Chapter Summary

This chapter examines representations of the body and vitalist medicine as associated concerns in Diderot's writings. This discussion starts by charting Diderot's idea of medical knowledge as a factor in artistic production and his debt to Montpellier vitalist medicine. It then addresses images of suffering as of particular interest for the interface between medicine and aesthetics, and provides a second relevant context for Diderot's view of the human body as an object of representation: the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. A later example of criticism of sculpture that incorporates a diagnostic gaze is Diderot's 1774 letter on Etienne-Maurice Falconet's carving Milo of Croton. Certainly, it was in terms of an aggressive flux of the 'esprits' that the seventeenth-century 'conférenciers' had liked to explain the exhalation of the Laocoön. Aesthetics was no match for materialism as the unifying topology for Diderot's concern for the arts.

Keywords:art and medicine; Diderot; Falconet; Laocoon; medico-physiological; Milo; Montpellier; suffering; vitalist medicine

10.1163/9789004229204_013
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