Image: Wax Venus at La Specola Museum, Florence by Curious Expeditions
In the post-enlightenment era of resurrection men and mad anatomists, while the Northern countries focused their energies on mort-safes and fortified tombs, in Italy a sculptor turned his attention to creating an alternative to corpses, anatomy models captured eternally between life and death.
The unmistakably erotic forms of these “Anatomical Venuses” with their pert nipples and languid poses recline on soft pillows, their delicate fingers entangled in their long hair. They are delicate and lifelike wax models of young women, anatomically perfect down to their removable entrails.
Although there were several designers of these anatomy teaching tools, the most famous and beautiful specimens were created by the Florentine sculptor Clemente Susini between 1790 and 1805. His Venuses have delicate, classical features with partially open eyes, and they lie in poses reminiscent of the Renaissance sculptures of his home city. They look almost alive, almost soft. The effect is in equal parts unsettling and strangely comforting, particularly when contrasted to other models showing bodies flayed or decaying plague victims in greenish agony.
Several of Susini’s Venuses have miraculously survived the centuries in remarkably excellent condition.
If you would like to visit one of Susini’s Venuses, you can find them at:
La Specola Museum, Florence, Italy
Semmelweis Museum, Budapest, Hungary
Josephinium, Vienna, Austria
Other Anatomical Venuses are at Cagliari’s Wax Anatomy Museum and the Museo di Palazzo Poggi in Bologna
More about anatomical Venuses and medical models:
Wombs, Waxes and Wonder Cabinets - Bioephemera Blog
Aphrodites of the Operating Theatre - Boing Boing
Brought to Life - Florence Science Museum
Exquisite Bodies - The Wellcome Collection
Wax Anatomical Models at the Josephinum Museum - Curious Expeditions
Semmelweis Museum - Curious Expeditions
Anatomical Theatre: Depictions of the Body, Disease, and Death in Medical Museums of the Western World
More links from today’s #morbidmonday explorations
In Cleveland the Dittrick Medical Museum features a lovely doctors office from the 1800s
Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh holds a book bound in the skin of the infamous resurrection man Brendan Burke
The Morbid Anatomy blog has stories and photos from medical collections around the world
A macabre oasis in the sprawl of New York City: The Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn
In Paris, find the only remaining collection of flayed figures made by French “madman” Honoré Fragonard
America’s most famous museum of medical oddities: the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia
There are so many more than you might suspect - explore our Medical Museum category on Atlas Obscura
Join us each Monday on Twitter and follow our #morbidmonday hashtag, for new odd and macabre themes each week: Atlas Obscura on Twitter
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