Anatomy Books – Reviews and Recommendations


There are so many anatomy books available out there. Some are great and some are not so great, but I own nearly all of them. I am often asked what are the best books for learning anatomy, these are my TOP 6 Anatomy Books:

1. Artistic Anatomy by Dr. Paul Richer

Dr. Paul Richer was the Professor of Anatomy at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the 19th century, the height of the school’s naturalism and figurative powers. This book, translated from the original French edition, contains detailed explanations of the form, function, and structure of all the muscles important to an artist. Originally written in 1890 it has been reference by nearly every other anatomy book written since. The text is illuminating but difficult for a beginner to understand. The plates, while extremely accurate and concise, are separate from the text and located at the back of the book. Highest recommendation for intermediate or advanced artists.

2. Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck

This book is another classic and more accessible than Richer’s. Published by Oxford University Press in 1951, it has been in print for over 60 years. The book is full of Peck’s meticulously accurate painting as well as a huge number of sketches explaining critical anatomical points. Also useful is the pronunciations for the bones and muscles as well as the derivation of the names. Finishes with sections on proportions, gender variations, aging, and distinctions between races. Possibly the best book for artists starting their anatomy studies.

3. Human Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger

Perhaps the best contemporary artistic anatomy book. This book by Goldfinger reads like an anatomy encyclopedia – systematically covering all the relevant muscles to an artist. Each muscle’s origin, insertion, structure, and effect is described. Well drawn illustrations show the muscle schematically and photographs show how the muscle appears on the surface. This book is indispensable reference and should be open for all projects. The comprehensive set of photos showing the muscles on a living figure is reason enough to buy the book.

4. Die Gestalt des Menschen by Gottfried Bammes

This book is written in German and is difficult to find outside of Europe, but if you can find it, the illustrations alone justify the price. Bammes, a contemporary artist and anatomy teacher, presents a huge number of drawings and photographs that explain and clarify the mechanics of the human body. His architectural treatment of the structure and mechanics of the body complement explanations found in other books. Note that there is no DIRECT English language translation of this book, do not be tempted by The Artist’s Guide to Human Anatom, it is a much abridged version of this work showing, for the most part, his students’ work. This book however gets the highest recommendation if it can be found.

5. Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing From Life by George B. Bridgman

Famed instructor of academic drawing at the Art Students League in New York, George Bridgman taught many of the great illustrators of the 20th century including Norman Rockwell and comic book legend Will Eisner. This book explains the form and function of the human body through copious illustrations from Bridgman, all apparently done live in front of his classes. Bridgman has powerful technique and his drawings are great for explaining the volume of muscle groups and the underlying skeleton. The focus of his approach is constructive anatomy, building the figure from principles of structure and mechanics, not necessarily from observation. This approach is especially useful to digital sculptors working from imagination. Recommended.

6. Thieme Atlas of Anatomy – General Anatomy and Musculoskeletal System

A contemporary atlas of medical anatomy that is so clear and beautifully illustrated that every serious artist should own a copy. Despite being intended for medical practitioners, this book is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of painting of musculoskeletal anatomy. Beyond this, the book contains valuable reference on the accepted range of motion of the joints and proportions of the body. Being primarily a medical atlas, this book is not recommended as a means of learning artistic anatomy, but is a fantastic read once you are familiar with the basics. For the purchase price you get also get copious medical anatomy that is not entirely relevant to an artist, but interesting peripheral knowledge.

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