The Kaibo Zonshinzu (Exact Anatomical Drawings) is a collection of eighty-three anatomical drawings, contained within two scrolls, compiled in 1819 by the Kyoto doctor Minagaki Yasukazu (1784-1825). The drawings, produced by the doctor himself, were based on observations made during the dissections of more than forty executed criminals. Praised by the renowned German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold (who added a complimentary inscription to the first scroll), the Kaibo Zonshinzu was designated an important cultural property in March 2003 by Japan's Ministry of Culture.
Of course, the Japanese weren't the only ones to investigate the workings of the human body by dissecting executed criminals. For Europeans, execution and dissection used to go hand in hand. In Britain, for example, Henry VIII had granted the Barber-Surgeons Company of London the bodies of four executed criminals per year from 1540, for use in their public anatomical dissections. By the nineteenth century dissection was a recognised form of punishment in Britain; the Murder Act of 1751 had mandated that all murderers be dissected or hanged in chains following execution, as a 'further Terror and peculiar Mark of Infamy'.
But when comparing Minagaki's drawings with those favoured by European doctors of the nineteenth century, two examples of which are included below for comparison, the prior grisly fate of the anatomist's subject is very evident in the Kaibo Zonshinzu. For anyone accustomed to the rather sterile (though astoundingly accomplished and beautiful) illustrations produced in the West, the realism of Minagaki's drawings can be somewhat startling. The individuals depicted in European drawings look more like they've peacefully nodded off rather than kicked the bucket. Minagaki's subjects, on the other hand, with their tortured faces and dribbles of bodily fluid, are very definitely dead... more to the point, they're very definitely beheaded! He has not just provided accurate depictions of their inner workings; he has captured their tortured endings. In that, I think his anatomical drawings are quite unique.
Kaibo Zonshinzu images courtesy of Tohoku University Museum.