The hands sculpted by Auguste Rodin are among the late 19th century's most expressive works of art.
They are also in desperate need of a good doctor.
On display at Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center, one has several broken fingers. Another seems to suffer from a cyst on a nerve. A third may have symptoms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. A fourth is missing a thumb.
We know this because we can share in the science -- through art -- of medical diagnosis, on display at the exhibit "Inside Rodin's Hands," which runs through Sunday.
The internal anatomy of 10 different Rodin hands are re-created in a high-quality 3-D virtual model built by a Stanford team, using CT scans of modern hands with similar ailments.
Visitors can view the underlying structures -- bones, nerves and blood vessels -- from every angle, via an iPad. It's like seeing Rodin's hands through the eyes of a surgeon.
A diagnosis for each hand has been prepared by Dr. James Chang, a Stanford hand surgeon, and students in his undergraduate course "Surgical Anatomy of the Hand: From Rodin to Reconstruction," which studies the anatomy and aesthetics of human structure.
They propose surgical solutions: Bones rejoined. Connective tissue removed. Enzymes injected. Nerves and tendons transferred. Joints replaced.
The new exhibit is part of a time-honored intersection of art and anatomy dating back to the Renaissance.
But the hands in this room aren't idealized images, such as those drawn by Michelangelo or da Vinci. Rather, they are large and grotesque, gnarled by the often cruel nature of 19th century Parisian life and labor.
They illustrate the ordinary motions of long-gone, everyday lives -- a grasp, a clench, an extended reach. Rodin believed that the hand was among the most powerful vehicles for communicating emotion through art.
Gazing at the hands was a revelation for museum visitor John Ryan. "I knew he had so many live models," the Sausalito resident said, "but it never occurred to me that they would actually be, in many cases, showing deformation."
The exhibit was inspired by Chang, in collaboration with the university's arts and sciences faculty in the Cantor Arts Center, the School of Medicine's Division of Clinical Anatomy, and the Lane Medical Library.
Chang became enchanted by the Rodin sculptures during his surgical residency 15 years ago, when his family would visit the museum on Thursday evenings. The Cantor Arts Center's collection of Rodin bronzes is among the largest in the world.
While his wife, Harriet, also a physician, settled in at the cafe with a quiet cup of coffee, he strolled the sculpture garden while his two daughters played. (One, Kathleen, is now a student at Palo Alto's Gunn High School; the other, Susan, is a Stanford senior.)
"We were on call every other night and wanted a place to relax," he said. "I looked at the sculpture, and I would see, almost exactly, a patient or operation I had just done."
"To me, anatomy is art. And art is anatomy," he said.
His Stanford class, years later, attracts students with deep interests in both art and human anatomy. They have ranged from an organist to a baseball pitcher to an amateur magician to a butcher's daughter.
Rodin's sculptures could serve as a teaching tool, he thought: "It is fun, educational and very engaging for students."
He consulted with Stanford's Division of Clinical Anatomy, where researchers are creating a library of 3-D scans of diseased human bodies. The scans are used for research, surgical training and analysis of biomechanical motion.
Chang gave them CT scans of his patients who had the same conditions Rodin had sculpted. They superimposed his patients' CT scans onto scans of Rodin's hands.
Technology's linkage of art and anatomy "allows new ways of knowing, learning, experimenting and discovery," said Dr. Amy Ladd, chief of Chase Hand & Upper Limb Center, Stanford University School of Medicine.
The diagnoses are speculative, of course. For more accuracy, it would be necessary to know the intimate details of a patient's life, as well as how much artistic license Rodin took with his sculpting.
But one life story -- an aging European man who used his hands tirelessly -- is well known. It is Rodin's.
A sculpture of his own hand shows a flexed position of the ring and small fingers, dimpling of the flesh and knots under the skin.
The diagnosis: Rodin had Dupuytren's contracture, a disease that thickened his hand muscles.
Even as they created extraordinary art.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.
"Inside Rodin's Hands: Art, Technology, and Surgery"
Exhibit open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through its final day Sunday and until 8 p.m. Thursday, at the Cantor Arts Center, on the Stanford campus at Palm Drive and Museum Way. Admission to the exhibit is free. Parking is free on weekends and after 4 p.m. weekdays. Information at 650-723-4177 or museum.stanford.edu.