Tonight, Kate Forde of London’s Wellcome Collection will deliver an illustrated lecture detailing the rise and fall of the popular anatomical museum in 19th century Europe as detailed in The Wellcome’s recent ‘Exquisite Bodies’ exhibition.
The ‘Exquisite Bodies’ exhibition, which was curated with the assistance of Morbid Anatomy‘s Joanna Ebenstein, was inspired by the craze for anatomy museums and their artifacts–particularly wax anatomical models–in 19th century Europe. In London, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona displays of wax models became popular with visitors seeking an unusual afternoon’s entertainment. The public were invited to learn about the body’s internal structure, its reproductive system and its vulnerability to disease–especially the sexually transmitted kind–through displays that combined serious science with more than a touch of prurience and horror.
At a time when scandal surrounded the practice of dissection, the medical establishment gave these collections of human surrogates a cautious welcome; yet only a few decades later they fell into disrepute, some even facing prosecution for obscenity. This talk will trace the trajectory of these museums in a highly illustrated lecture featuring many of the historical artifacts featured in the show.
Kate Forde is Curator of Temporary Exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection, London. She is interested in the role of museums in the shaping of cultural memory and in the display of fine art within science-based institutions. Her current research is taking her from the great dust-heaps of Victorian London to Staten Island’s landfill Fresh Kills for an exhibition with the working title ‘Dirt’. You can see a preview of tonights lecture by clicking here.