A Beautiful Anatomy: Gautier d’Agoty’s Mezzotints

Jacques Fabian Gautier d’Agoty was an 18th century French anatomist and engraver, a Marseille native, and a painter of Court ladies including Marie Antoinette.  For his anatomical and naturalist art he worked with colored mezzotints, using red, yellow and blue impressions on copper plates, a method he’d learned during his brief six-week employment under Jacob Christoph Le Blon.

After leaving his post over a low wage dispute, he shed the role of assistant and, immediately upon Le Blon’s death in 1741, assumed that of principal inventor, but his assertions were part fiction.  He’d added black or brown to make a four-plate mezzotint, “perfecting” Le Blon’s method, but this was not considered revolutionary by his peers.   He was nevertheless awarded a patent by Louis XV to continue making his art–a patent that remained in his family throughout the 18th century.

‘Anatomical Angel’ is his most well-known anatomical print.  The female depicted is eroticized, young and refined despite her presumed death.  She’s morbidly beautiful, the skin on her back splayed into red angel wings, her coiffure curled and pinned, her hips and upper buttocks exposed.

Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d'agoty (Back of Female) 1746
Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d’agoty (Back of Female) 1746

Aside from the fact his models are stripped to their flesh, his mezzotints are similar to 18th century portraiture in posture and graceful expression.  It’s disarming, to say the least.

Pregnant Woman | 1773
Pregnant Woman | 1773


And lastly, the Queen whose tragic anatomy was exposed by the guillotine:

Marie Antoinette | 1775
Marie Antoinette | 1775

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