Rodin’s sculptures inspire surgery students 

click to enlarge Rodin
  • Rodin’s sculpture “Left Hand of Eustache de St. Pierre” is the basis for an anatomical computer model that is part of an exhibit at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center.
It’s difficult to imagine that 19th-century sculptures could provide lessons in 21st-century medicine, but in a fascinating, one-of-a-kind exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, they do.

“Inside Rodin’s Hands: Art, Technology and Surgery,” on view through Aug. 3, is inspired by a sophomore seminar taught by Stanford Medical School professor Dr. James Chang.

The exhibit features detailed presentations by his student trainees in plastic and reconstructive surgery who use disfigured-looking appendages on Auguste Rodin’s bronzes in Stanford’s Rodin Sculpture Garden as starting points for diagnosing various medical conditions — fractures and stiff joints as well as more exotic-sounding but not uncommon disorders such as Dupuytren’s contracture, Apert syndrome and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease that affect hands.

Photographs of real hands with conditions that resemble those on the statues aided the students in developing treatments, with assistance from cutting-edge 3-D computer technology.

Their dynamic results are on display in iPad presentations in which viewers see the hands’ anatomy — the bones and tissue under the skin — from different angles, before and after surgical treatment. The technology in the exhibit, created by Stanford’s Division of Clinical Anatomy using CT scans of both the statues and real hands of Chang’s patients, is the same as what medical students use in classes, and their basis for doing virtual surgery.

Organizers of the show call it an unprecedented collaboration between four groups: Chang and his students, Cantor Arts Center, the Division of Clinical Anatomy and the Lane Medical Library, which supplied fascinating historical texts from the 16th through 19th centuries that reveal how previous medical students and practitioners studied the hand’s anatomy.

Pleased with the success of his seminar and the exhibition, Chang (who first became enamored with Stanford’s Rodin sculptures as a undergraduate) said, “I wanted to participate in this exhibition for the same reason I introduced Rodin into my seminar: To get students in the humanities excited about the sciences, and to get doctors to step out of the hospital to appreciate art. I have found that artists and surgeons appreciate human anatomy with equal passion.”


Inside Rodin’s Hands: Art, Technology and Surgery

Where: Cantor Arts Center, 328 Lomita Drive, Stanford University, Stanford

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, except open until 8 p.m. Thursdays; closes Aug. 3

Admission: Free

Contact: (650) 723-4177,

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Leslie Katz

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