Anatomical Venus: who studied the pathologists of the XVIII century

Anatomical Venus is a life-size female wax figure, usually with real human hair and glass eyes. It was made specifically for popular science lectures on anatomy, which were held for the general public at the end of the 18th century. Some Anatomical Venuses are taken apart or opened to reveal the fetus in the womb. Others are presented in static states, when their internal organs are visible immediately, that is, anatomically naked.

Joanna Ebenstein of the Museum of Pathological Anatomy in Brooklyn has traveled the world to write the wax model story that is included in her book The Anatomical Venus. She told Buzzfeed about her work: “In 2007, I went on a pilgrimage for a month to photograph exhibits in major medical museums in Europe and the United States and collect material for an exhibition called Anatomical Theater. Anatomical Venus was the most mesmerizing of all the eerie and striking objects that I saw during the entire trip.

This Anatomical Venus, made in the workshop of La Specola between 1784 and 1788, is displayed in an original rosewood and Venetian glass box at the Josefinum Museum in Vienna. Josephinum, Collections and History of Medicine, MedUni Vienna / Joanna Ebenstein

“The first was created around 1780 in Florence, Italy, where it served as the centerpiece of the 'wax encyclopedia' of the human body at the Museum of Physics and Natural History, better known as La Specola, the first truly popular science museum open to men. women and children ”.

Josephinum, Collections and History of Medicine, MedUni Vienna / Joanna Ebenstein

“The original Anatomical Venuses were crafted by a skilled artist in tandem with an anatomical or natural scientist. The highest quality was done in the workshop of the artist Clemente Susini, who for many years headed the wax workshop in La Specola. "

Josephinum, Collections and History of Medicine, MedUni Vienna / Joanna Ebenstein

“The team started by selecting illustrations from renowned medical atlases by authors such as Vesalius, Albinus or Mascagni. Then corpses and body parts were brought from the nearest hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, so that every organ and every detail was made with maximum precision. The purpose of these wax figures was to replace further dissections of human bodies, which were dirty, bad-smelling and unethical. "

Josephinum, Collections and History of Medicine, MedUni Vienna / Joanna Ebenstein

“The beauty of Anatomical Venus was essential to arouse the viewer's desire for knowledge. At the same time, she separated it from the concepts of death and the grave, with which most of the knowledge about anatomy is associated. Arnaud-Helois Gaultier d'Agoti, son of the creator of the 18th century anatomical prints, including the famous “Flayed Angel” by Jacques-Fabien Gaultier d'Agoti, eloquently remarked: pleasant death? ""

Josephinum, Collections and History of Medicine, MedUni Vienna / Joanna Ebenstein

"Anatomical Venus solved this problem, because it looked like living, did not experience pain, there was no blood on it, and it was also based on the ancient tradition of artistic depictions of Venus, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility."

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niversité de Montpellier, collections anatomiques / Marc Dantan

Université de Montpellier, collections anatomiques / Marc Dantan

“Our current obsession with beautiful dead girls makes Anatomical Venus strange, lustful and sinister for many. I think it is simply impossible to view her now not through the prism of what happened after her - horror films with dismembered beautiful female victims, murders on the basis of sex, as well as sex dolls. "

Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlumg Puppentheater / Schaustellerei, Munich

“I traveled to see and photograph every Venus I could find, read everything I could get to, from scholarly articles to archival museum catalogs, corresponded with private collectors, interviewed curators and traveled to Italy to try to understand Venus in its historical and cultural context. The more I learned, the more questions I had. It seems to me that I could spend the rest of my life chasing the tracks leading to and from Anatomical Venus, and that would not be enough. "