William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum

Cover, William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum

Edited by Mungo Campbell and Nathan Flis, with the assistance of María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui

With contributions by Karen Baston, Donal Bateson, Peter Black, Mungo Campbell, Neil Clark, Annie Cornwell, Michelle Craig, Barbara Di Gennaro Splendore, Anne Dulau Beveridge, Jesper Ericsson, John Faithfull, Nathan Flis, Meredith Gamer, Julie Gardham, Craig Ashley Hanson, Dominik Hünniger, Robert MacLean, Stuart McDonald, Andy Mills, Seren Nolan, Nicky Reeves, Maggie Reilly, Jeanne Robinson, María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui, Matthew Sangster, Nicholas Thomas, and David Weston

Published by the Yale Center for British Art and The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, in association with Yale University Press

440 pages, 9 1/2 x 12 inches, 275 color illustrations, hardcover, ISBN: 9780300236651

Publication date: November 27, 2018


William Hunter (1718–1783), the Scottish physician who served in London as obstetrician to Queen Charlotte and as a professor of anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts, was also one of the foremost collectors of his day. Hunter’s unparalleled holdings encompassed paintings, works on paper, coins and medals, rare books and manuscripts, ethnographic objects from around the globe, anatomical and zoological preparations, insects, shells, minerals, and fossils. His bequest to the University of Glasgow secured the enduring public utility of his collections and established one of the first modern encyclopedic museums anywhere: The Hunterian.

This volume accompanied the eponymously titled exhibition that explored the rich variety of objects acquired by Hunter, or prepared and preserved in the course of his professional practice, while considering the deep connections among the many branches of knowledge they represent. In their totality, Hunter’s collections helped to shape an emerging conception of the modern museum as an institution for learning, based on inquiry into nature and the products of art.

Hunter’s anatomical investigations and teaching echoed the Enlightenment objective to systematize knowledge. He applied empirical methods to reveal, record, and publish the inner workings of the body, in particular, the anatomy of pregnancy. The research materials for his atlas of the human “gravid uterus” are evidence of his legacy in medical science.

The objects collected by Hunter frequently reflect contemporary topics of debate—from extinction (the tooth and tusk of the North American mastodon) to the best use of color and perspective to represent the world (canvases by Chardin, Rembrandt, and Koninck). Presented together, as Hunter intended, the collections provide the occasion to contemplate how knowledge was—and still is— produced, and to examine the continuing role of museums in reflecting and shaping the modern world.

Mungo Campbell is Deputy Director of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow; Nathan Flis is Head of Exhibitions and Publications and Assistant Curator of Seventeenth-Century Paintings at the Yale Center for British Art; and María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui is William Hunter Tercentenary Curator at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. 

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