Today, an artist teaches us a new lesson in
anatomy. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
I'm in the clinic for a
sonogram -- just a routine follow-up. It means
waiting, so I carry a book. It is, by coincidence,
Max Brödel: The Man Who Put Art Into
Medicine. And I'd thought it was Leonardo da
Vinci who put art into medicine. But when I look at
Brödel's work, I know he was Leonardo's modern
Brödel's drawings created an eerie virtual
reality of the chest, the womb, the brain. Now I
watch the poker face of the sonogram technician in
the hard light of a computer screen. It is
Brödel I'm thinking about as the woman finally
shows me the cool gray pictures she's made -- the
canyons and caverns of my own insides.
Brödel was born in 1870 in Leipzig, Germany.
His father was a piano maker who trained him as a
concert pianist. But he went off to the Leipzig art
school instead. When he became a legal adult at 18,
his angry father no longer had to support him.
He would've been in trouble, but then a remarkable
break -- for medicine as well as for Brödel.
Carl Ludwig, director of the Institute of
Physiology, took him on as a part-time medical
artist. He trained him and gave him a long leash.
Brödel learned well. He did a study of the
brain cortex magnified 150 times. He studied the
human heart. By the age of 24 he'd given doctors
means for seeing things they'd never seen whole
Then a second big break: When Ludwig neared
retirement, the new Johns Hopkins Medical School
offered Brödel a post. So he set off for
America. He showed up along with a whole cadre of
bright young doctors poised to define 20th-century
American medicine -- giants-to-be, like Harvey
Cushing and Thomas Cullen.
There he stayed until he died in 1941. His last
work was an exhausting study of the anatomy of the
human ear, published a few months after his death.
One of the three drawings was finished by someone
else, from his sketches. It looks like advertising
art alongside Brödel's mystic vision of the
In 1938 a medical publisher hosted a banquet for
Brödel. Brödel's close friend, the famous
wit H.L. Menken, spoke. Menken and Brödel had
been playing piano duets together for 28 years by
then. But the most telling speech wasn't Menken's.
It was by a reigning medical editor who said
Brödel's art was on the edge of extinction.
Color photography and interior lighting of the
human body would put an end to the art he'd so
So I put on my clothes, pick up my book, and look
back at that computer screen. I haven't been
dissected; I can walk away. And those pictures are
specific to me. It is a superb technology. It's not
Brödel, but it is his continuation -- just as
surely as Brödel himself was the continuation
of Leonardo da Vinci.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds