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Exquisite Bodies

November 10, 2009

Exquisite Bodies was a Wellcome Collection exhibition on the models of bodies and body parts used from the XIX century for the study of anatomy, but also for the curiosity of the general public.

Initially I thought the focus was rather unusual, and that there wouldn’t be that much to say about anatomical models. I just couldn’t foresee a statement that the exhibition would be making about them. And to be honest, I still don’t think the exhibition had much of a statement to it. But I also think I didn’t need one.

Much like it used to be in Victorian times, the models were there for the public to see. And as well as marvelling at the astonishing quality of these models, and the true art that goes into their details and their accuracy, exactly like the Victorian audience I was surprised to discover the effects of various contagious diseases on different parts of the body. Some of those models were showcased for educational purposes and I must say that while I know it is probably not a good idea for me to catch syphilis, I too ignored what exactly it would do to my face.

Effects of syphilis. Photo from the Wellcome Collection website

It still doesn’t surpass the brilliance of the Wellcome’s past exhibition, War and medicine, but it was exquisitely interesting none the less.


Exquisite Bodies ended on October 18th, but its very commendable website is still active.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pancho permalink
    November 10, 2009 09:36

    Were these just models , meaning artificial or are they preserved remains of humans that succame to illnesses, such as the head of the man above?

    You reaction to the effects the “contagious diseases” have on the body is intriguing. Though the body is the locus of disease, we are perhaps not fully aware of how it manifests on the body.

    What is the difference between making models and using really preserved body parts? Could models satifsy our needs for bodies? I wonder if in this part of the world, the introduction of model fingers, eyes and human genetalia in traditional witchcraft would substitute the real body parts – which are obtained through the murder of individuals. This happened recently, about two weeks ago in Namibia, where a body was found lacking the aforementioned parts.

  2. November 11, 2009 12:58

    Hey Pancho!
    They were mainly models, including I think the head above actually! My understanding is that first to come about were the full-body models, because the interest in anatomy and medicine had become so great that the demands couldn’t be met by using real corpses, not even if people resorted to body snatching.
    I had never really thought about the possibility of model body parts supplanting the elements used in witchcraft. As a first reaction I would say they probably wouldn’t work, my impression is that the “something” they have that is necessary to witchcraft is their being flesh and blood and bone, the “essence of life” that was within them and could never be in a model made of wax or plastic. But now I can’t get rid of the thought! What do you think?

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