Fast Asleep for 100 Years: Vintage Wax Anatomical Models

Wax anatomical model of a female showing internal organs, Florence, Italy, 1818 via io9

Darlings, I have a delightfully creepy collection for you this morning: a gallery of 18th and 19th century wax anatomical models.  An art technique since the 14th century, the use of exceptionally detailed wax figures to demonstrate anatomical principles first arose in the late 17th century with a collaboration between wax modeler Gaetano Giulio Zumbo and surgeon Guillaume Desnoues, gaining popularity throughout Europe in the 18th century. From Journal of Anatomy:

Wax models were used for teaching anatomy to medical students because they made it possible to pick out and emphasise specific features of the body, making their structure and function easier to understand. This made them especially useful at a time when few bodies were available for dissection.

Particularly interesting (and perhaps particularly gruesome to modern sensibilities) were “Anatomical Venuses,”‘ extremely realistic female figures finely crafted of wax, human hair, pearls, and rosewood, featuring both a languid, artistically beautiful form and a functional anatomical breast plate that could be removed to reveal internal organs, musculature, veins, even a fetus in the womb, blurring the line between art and science. The amazing Joanna Ebenstein of Morbid Anatomy has featured several fantastic collections of anatomical model photography, but her images of Anatomical Venuses are especially haunting and bizarre. Enjoy!

Additional photos and history can be found at io9, The Nautilus, Preserved Project, Joanna Ebenstein’s Astropop, and Bizarro Bizarre.

Related Posts:

– Death by a Thousand Cuts: Bizarre Li Hongbo Paper Sculpture

– Like Something Strange, Undreamt-of: The Nightmare Illustrations of Stephen Gammell

– La Isla de las Munecas: The Terror of Doll Island

Categories: Oddities

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29 replies

  1. The weird thing is that I find these much creepier and more disturbing than the current Body Worlds exhibit, and I know that those are made with actual bodies.

  2. Very interesting!

  3. Truly Amazing Eva – the expressions of resigned serenity make it all truly creepy. Once again your research amazes me.

  4. I love wax anatomical models. I actually have a poem about one that’s housed at the Mutter Museum.

  5. We’re definitely treading a grotesque uncanny valley here, but what is most fascinating to me about these is both the ingenuity of using highly detailed wax models to teach anatomy, and the level of craftsmanship necessary to create these pieces, many of which are more intricate and detailed than any celebrated work of art. Layer on the deliberate juxtaposition of beauty and anatomy of the Venuses, and I do believe we are approaching true art.

  6. Absolutely amazing, fascinating works of art.

  7. Crazy stuff! Where do you find all of these interesting subjects. 3rd from last pic, sexy pose… er, um. scratch that, I didn’t mean it.

  8. Delightfully creepy is right. You give me shivers, sweetie! 😉

  9. Beautiful and almost tragic in the expressions on the faces. Wow. It is amazing that these have survived.

  10. BTW, I added a link to your blog in my blogroll 🙂

  11. I just got to visit the Gordon Museum today (which is normally only open to the “medical public”) and see some of these in person. It was an incredible place! I learned that the difference between British and European anatomical models is that the British ones are obviously of dead people, whilst the European ones are stylised in such a way as to appear to still be alive (albeit unconscious). Great photo roundup!

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