Art, Intuition, and Identity in Ramón y Cajal

Dawn Hunter (Lead / Corresponding author), Javier DeFelipe, Arpan R Mehta, Bevil R. Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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In the history of neuroscience, Cajal stands tall. Many figures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries made major contributions to neuroscience-Sherrington, Ferrier, Jackson, Holmes, Adrian, and Békésy, to name a few. But in the public mind, Cajal is unique. His application of the Golgi method, with an array of histologic stains, unlocked a wealth of new knowledge on the structure and function of the brain. Here we argue that Cajal's success should not only be attributed to the importance of his scientific contributions but also to the artistic visual language that he created and to his pioneering self-branding, which exploited methods of the artist, including classical drawing and the new invention of photography. We argue that Cajal created his distinctive visual language and self-branding strategy by interweaving an ostensibly objective research product with an intimately subjective narrative about the brain and himself. His approach is evident in the use of photography, notably self-portraits, which furthered broad engagement initially inspired by his scientific drawings. Through his visual language, Cajal made an impact in art and culture far beyond the bounds of science, which has sustained his scientific legacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2024


  • neuroscience
  • histology
  • Cajal
  • neuroscience history
  • arts and sciences
  • interdisciplinary
  • scientific conceptualization process
  • drawing in science
  • art history
  • Spanish painting history


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