A four-legged woman, headless men with spouts emerging from their stomachs or backs, human beast hybrids, a male body with the head of a duck. These descriptions might sound like a dream you might have had once, or perhaps they sprang up in a feature horror film. But these are simply some of the drawings that Italian physician, Fortunio Liceti, concocted in the early 1600s. 

Fortunio Liceti, Illustration from De Monstris , 1665. Courtesy of The Public Domain Review.

Upon close inspection of these finely-wrought, cross-hatched drawings and prints, one can begin to understand 17th century anxieties and misconceptions about the human body. Most specifically, the reproductive system. In addition to fictitious figures, Liceti rendered what is believed to be a variation of deformities present in human life. 

Fortunio Liceti, Illustration from De Monstris, 1665. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Fortunio Liceti was born prematurely in 1577 off the coast of Italy, where rumors began to circulate that at birth he was so small that he could fit into the palm of a hand. He grew up to study medicine and philosophy at the University of Bologna where he became increasingly interested in biology. He published his work often, for a time releasing one book per year.

Fortunio Liceti, Illustration from De Monstris , 1665. Courtesy ofThe Public Domain Review.

His most famous work, On the Reasons, Nature and Differences of Monsters published in 1616 chronologically documented cases of human and animal monsters from antiquity. In the culture of the time, many people considered such monsters as frightening signs of evil cursed by spiritual or supernatural entities. Liceti categorized monsters based on their potential causes, several of which he claimed were unrelated to the supernatural. It was only centuries later that historians noted that some of the documented monsters were infants with birth defects, to which many credit Liceti’s book as an early model for the study of birth defects, a field later termed teratology. 

Fortunio Liceti, Illustration from De Monstris, 1665. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Centuries later, it would be surrealist artists rather than scientists who would revisit Liceti’s work with its imaginative, uninhabited psyche. 

André Masson. There Is No Finished World, 1942. Oil on canvas, 53 x 68 in. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, 1951.333. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Now several weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, most art institutions worldwide have either closed or are still in the process of closing to the public. By now, most businesses have taken a hit from this closure, not to mention the thousands of people that have been left indefinitely unemployed. Among those effected are the galleries and artists that have been left without sales, as well as museums that are now unable to host events or sell tickets.  

All of this has left institutions scrambling to come up with new and alternative methods of bringing a museum’s collection to someone’s home. We are now beginning to see the first online exhibitions popping up on social media; the first is credited to Beijing-based X Museum. The Museum enlisted artist Pete Jiadong Qiang to create an online museum experience themed as an online gaming system. 

Courtesy of the X Museum.

“Online exhibitions will have their place in the future, and the epidemic accelerated the process,” Pete explained. “I would rather not have a specific boundary between online and offline, virtual and physical, especially for an emerging contemporary museum in Beijing.”

But even though the X Museum is credited for getting the word out there, this trend was already in existence long before they went live. Google Arts & Culture has been exhibiting virtual tours of museums around the world for years. You can tour more than 500 art institutions worldwide such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and many others.

A look inside National Gallery, London on Google Arts & Culture.

As we enter Week 2 of quarantine here in Los Angeles County, bored and art-deprived people like myself have been itching to get back into art spaces. The hashtag, #MuseumFromHome has been making rounds on social media. 

“The museum may be closed and we all may be social distancing,” read a tweet from the University of Southern California’s Fisher Museum of Art. “But the beauty of technology and social media (which is not always so lovely) is that we can bring the museum both past and present into your homes.”

Just a few weeks ago, Senior Director of the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence announced their new social media program “Uffizi Decameron” after the gallery was forced to close its doors due to the virus. The program title is a play on the famous 14th century plague-era novel, The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.

“Everyday we’ll be telling you about the stories, the works, and the characters in our beautiful museum, to virtually unite everyone for the sake of art and culture. The treasures in the Uffizi, the Palazzo Pitti, and the Giardino di Boboli will be with you in your home, so we can together overcome this difficult time.”

Installation view at the Uffizi Gallery, 2018. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

Installation view at the Uffizi Gallery, 2018. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

Another way people are coping during this time are the do-it-yourself online art exhibitions that are popping up around the world. Italian curator Giada Pellicari launched the hashtag #ArtistsInQuaratine.

“I conceived this project due to the anxiety, fear, and anger that I felt the night of March 7th, when many journals published a draft of the Decrete by the Italian Ministry regarding the emanation of some red restricted areas in Italy,” Pellicari told Artsy in this article.

Sophie Westerlind, Marco, 110 X 85 cm, oil on linen, March 2020. Curtesy of @ArtistsInQuarantine

Twelve artists who live in red areas around Italy will be exhibited on the Instagram account @artistsinquarantine where their artwork will go up for sale.

“The artists will present, in some cases, new works exclusively conceived for the frame of Instagram,” Pellicari said. “I felt the urgency to create a new project that could show the way that the artistic scene was affected due to the coronavirus.”

Art Basel in Hong Kong has launched viewing rooms online. Art Central is bringing sales online for participating galleries. In New York, curators Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen initiated the online exhibition, “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?” as a platform for the exchange of ideas at this time of crisis. 

Judith Bernstein, Money Shot (Yellow), 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

“The beauty of these online exhibitions is that it’s a global exhibition, and it’s accessible to everyone,” Pollack continued. “I’m hoping that all of these websites and Instagram accounts link up to each other so that we can really start a global dialogue. Making sure that we have a diverse group of voices is incredibly important to me at this time.”

Zhao Zhao. Officer, 2011. Limestone. 338 1/2 x 71 x 71 inches (860 x 180 x 180 cm)


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