In celebration of Obscura Day, join Head Librarian of the Morbid Anatomy Museum, Laetitia Barbier, for a special tour of their current exhibition. House of Wax exhibits a selection of waxworks once shown as part of Castan’s Berlin-based Panopticum (1869-1922). The full collection, never before exhibited in the U.S., will later be installed at the forthcoming Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn.
Panoptica were popular throughout Europe from the 18th through the early 20th century. Like the dime museums and popular anatomical museums of the U.S., these largely forgotten spaces fall somewhere between aristocratic cabinets of curiosity and today’s ideas of museums. Castan’s was a typical panopticum of its day, displaying for a popular audience anatomical and pathological waxworks; real human specimens; death masks of celebrities and murderers; ethnographic busts; Anatomical Venuses, or recumbent female waxes displaying the mysteries of generation; wax models showing the effects of syphilis (still a fatal disease at this time) as well as assorted curiosities such as “elephant tusks, mummies, stuffed alligators, and gorillas.” They also presented live acts including singers, dancers, ventriloquists, hunger artists, and even living “freaks and ethnic ‘rarities’” (Source: Living Pictures, Missing Persons: Mannequins, Museums, and Modernity, Mark B. Sandberg, Princeton University Press).
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