Accounting for Vertebrate Limbs: From Owen’s Homology to Novelty in Evo-DevoSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
Article Type: Book Essay
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5. The way in which social context influenced Owen’s framing of his ideas is also addressed in the third introductory essay “The mystery of Richard Owen’s winged bull-slayer,” wherein Mary P. ‘Polly’ Winsor and Jennifer Coggon uncover a historical nugget. On the frontispiece of On the Nature of Limbs is a drawing showing the outlines of a winged angel who is about to cut the throat of a kneeling bull (see: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/owen). Within the outlines of these two beings the skeleton of a human and a bull are shown, with the bones of the limbs being numbered and homologous bones having identical numbers. Owen clearly used this to illustrate to the general audience of his lecture the various homologies among the parts of the human arm and the forelimb of a non-human species and likewise for the leg and the hindlimb. However, it has been unknown why Owen chose an angel and a bull and what artistic image or story (a biblical motif?) was his inspiration and likely to be recognized by his audience. Due to recent research in London by Coggon, it turns out that the ‘angel’ is not a Christian image at all. To avoid spoiling the fun of reading Winsor and Coggon’s actual essay, I carefully refrain from revealing the image’s meaning. Owen got the image from a marble sculpture, which still exists. Furthermore, Winsor and Coggon discuss why the image would have captured the attention of Owen’s audience, in part because bulls were prominently featured in the London news of the late 1840s.
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