Tinted engraving
William Cheselden (1688-1752)
Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones
London: W. Bowyer for the author, 1733
Courtesy of The New York Academy of Medicine Library

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For this book, the most famous osteological atlas ever produced, William Cheselden used the camera obscura for the first time to produce book illustrations. Its use allowed for much greater accuracy in drawing the illustrations of the individual human bones.

The camera obscura, the lensless pinhole camera, is one of the oldest known optical devices. It appears in Chinese texts dating from the fifth century B.C.E., and was used by the Chinese and Greeks for observations of solar eclipses. Light, traveling in straight lines, will form an image when projected through a small hole, but the image will be upside down. To compensate for this, Cheselden suspended the bones so that the image in the camera would appear right side up. The title page contains a charming engraved vignette showing exactly how this was done.

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