gms | German Medical Science

58. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie e. V. (DGNC)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie (DGNC) e. V.

26. bis 29.04.2007, Leipzig

Neurosurgery in art – Art in neurosurgery. A look at painting and plastic art

Neurochirurgie in der Kunst – Kunst in der Neurochirurgie

Meeting Abstract

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  • corresponding author A. Aschoff - Neurochirurgische Universitätsklinik Heidelberg

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie. 58. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie e.V. (DGNC). Leipzig, 26.-29.04.2007. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2007. DocP 108

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published: April 11, 2007

© 2007 Aschoff.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.



Objective: Some neurosurgical diseases are visible and are therefore a potential topic for painters and sculptors even outside of specific medical illustrations. Aside from a few case illustrations – especially in “Neurosurgery” – a major review or systematic investigations of art in neurosurgery ismissing.

Methods: Specialized lexica (Kindler's Malerei Lexikon), digitalized media, journals and books were reviewed looking for neurosurgical diseases, malformations, neurotraumata and operative procedures. A spin-off was a collection of the use of art in neurosurgical publications.

Results: In the ancient Greece, neurological diseases were scotomized in art with the exception of – preferebly war – traumata. However, some satyrs and cyclops may reflect neuromalformations. Of special interest is the story of god Hephaistos, who was congenitally handicapped: His own parents Hera and Zeus tried, to kill him two times by throwing him from the Olymp because of his malformations. – The realistic Roman sculpture shows a couple of probable malformations and head traumata. – The hells of medival art show a quota of body deformations and neurological diseases culminating in the work of Hieronymus Bosch and Breughel the Elder. Bosch painted the first spina bifida in art history, Breughel all kinds of malformed legs. Da Vinci played a singular role as a photorealistic painter of the nervous anatomy and was superior to many contemporary anatomists. For example, he described exactly the aqueduct years before Sylvius. In the 16th century, paintings of diseases and malformations became common (Dürer, manierism). Since the 17th century, we observe a progressive dissociation in medical scientific painting and art. Goya, Magritte, Dali and the surrealists often used neuro-topics and are very useful for presentations.

Conclusions: Body malformations and traumata are an important part of the history of art.