Bodies of Knowledge


Our bodies are incredibly complex machines. Every second of every day we are powered by beating hearts, and carried around by intricate skeletons. Pipes, organs, hormones and brain cells keep us eating, breathing, growing and thinking. And yet few of us ever get to see the amazing mechanisms hidden beneath our own skin.

For thousands of years the inner workings of the body have provoked fascination, confusion, amazement and even disgust. This site looks at the way different cultures, at various points in history, have looked at the body, and how these ideas have been translated into pictures. Click on the links below to explore all sorts of bodily curiosities.


Medieval astrology

Examine medieval star charts, and see how the patterns of the stars were believed to influence the workings of the body.



Learn how Chinese doctors use needles to manipulate the ‘life force’ in the body.

Vitruvius illustration

Vitruvius's theories of beauty

See how an ancient Roman architect used the proportions of the ‘ideal’ body to formulate a theory of universal beauty.

Vesalius illustration

Vesalius's Renaissance anatomy lessons

Glimpse into the revolutionary anatomy lessons of the 16th century, and see how Renaissance artists documented the inner workings of the body.

Ruysch illustration

Ruysch's anatomical curiosities

Look inside Frederik Ruysch's cabinets of curiosities, and see a fantastical cabaret of preserved body parts.


Victorian freak shows

Enter the bizarre world of Victorian freak shows, and discover how people with physical abnormalities became part of a cruel form of popular culture.

x-rays of hand and foot

Roentgen's discovery of the x-ray

Discover how the x-ray was invented, and how a pioneering radiology department found all sorts of unusual objects inside its patients.


Fritz Kahn's body machines

See how an illustrator used metaphors of modern industrial life to explain the complex machinery of the body.


Kundalini yoga

See how yogic techniques can rouse the sleeping snake of energy that is coiled at the base of the spine.



A range of fascinating activities exploring the metaphors and messages of bodies.