Importing Italian Culture


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Pluto and Proserpina

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Geoffroy Tory
French, 1485–1553
De la position et l’assiette de l’enfant dans la matrice [Of the position and the posture of the child in the womb] in Charles Estienne, De dissectione partibum corporis humani… [On the dissection of the parts of the human body]
Paris, 1545

Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University Library




Jacopo Caraglio
After Rosso Fiorentino
Italian, 1494–1540
Pluto and Proserpina, from The Loves of the Gods


Even medical texts in France were not free from the influence of Italian style, which served as a source of continual inspiration and a goal for emulation. As we see here, the divide between art and science was not so absolute as it is today, and it was common in the preparation of medical illustrations to borrow the poses of figures in popular prints. This woodcut is found in Chapter V of Estienne’s De dissectione, which discusses the female reproductive system.  The Latin legend to the upper right of the picture states: You must not think that the womb is placed or situated here naturally; but understand that it is only turned on its side here to more easily illustrate the organs which pertain to it.

As the other woodcuts in this treatise also make clear, Tory was working from a well-known series of prints by the Italian Jacopo Caraglio after drawings by Rosso Fiorentino and Perino del Vaga called The Loves of the Gods. The illustration shown here is reversed from Rosso’s image of Pluto and Proserpina (see reproduction at left); Tory has removed Pluto and Cerberus, his three-headed hound, but retained Proserpina, her lips parted to receive her lover’s kiss, essentially unchanged. The juxtaposition of a graceful and lascivious pose with the stark rendering of reproductive organs is quite jarring. However, this instance does underscore the importance of prints in transmitting artistic styles across cultural borders.