Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) is generally regarded as one of the principal artists of the Italian High Baroque. He was a well-known and successful painter, architect, and designer.
There is no doubt that among Italian painters, he must be considered the most influential personality of his generation, and this pre-eminence was recognized by his own contemporaries (Briganti in the encyclopedia of world Art, XI, 355-56).
Among his major achievements are the decoration of the Gran Salone of the Palazzo Barberini and the reconstruction of the Church of SS Luce e Martina. Cortona's paintings, and in particular his frescoes, influenced European art for many years after his death. It was Cortona who first created large integrated compositions in ceiling frescoes. Until then, most such works were divided into smaller compositions, each representing a particular scene or event.
Cortona was born, Pietro Berrettini in 1596, taking the name, Cortona from his birthplace. His father was a stonemason. Despite being apprenticed to quite minor painters, Cortona was precocious enough to make an impression on the artisans of the day and by his late twenties was being supported by well-placed patrons, ensuring him well-deserved success and celebrity.
It is now generally assumed that the plates in Tabulae anatomicae were begun around 1618 before Cortona had become well-known. The plates were probably engraved by Luca Ciamberlano but remained unpublished for over a hundred years, their eventual emergence probably being a product of Cortona's later reputation. When the work finally appeared in 1741, the publisher Gaetano Petrioli, a surgeon, added annotations which today are regarded to be of little value. Petrioli also added to each plate, smaller anatomical drawings taken largely from Vesalius. These additions were removed in later editions.
Some believe that the drawings were originally supposed to be part of an anatomical text, probably dealing largely with neurology as evidenced by the emphasis the nervous system receives in these illustrations. The dramatic and highly studied poses effected by the figures are in keeping with the style of other Renaissance Baroque anatomical artists, although nowhere does such an approach find any fuller expression than in these plates.