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Anatomical Venus by Clemente Susini and workshop, 1782 (from the Getty Villa’s Color of Life exhibition)
Photograph by Saulo Bambi, Museo di Storia Naturale “La Specola,” Florence, Italy
Anatomical Venuses are life-sized wax anatomical models of idealized women, extremely realistic in appearance and often adorned with real hair and ornamental jewelry. These figures consist of removable parts that can be “dissected” to demonstrate anatomy— a breast plate is lifted to reveal the inner workings of the mysterious female body, often with a fetus to be found nestling in the womb. […] This was a way to share anatomical discovery with a larger audience without the need for an actual human dissection.
Anatomical Venuses are probably the most historically popular form of anatomical models; in the 19th-Century, they were the centerpiece of museums and itinerant shows of all kinds, and possessed great power to draw crowds. The 18th-Century Florentine Venuses are the best remembered today, in no small part due to Taschen’s Encyclopaedia Anatomica, and are considered, by some, to be the finest examples of Anatomical Venuses known to exist.
Via Morbid Anatomy
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Anatomical Venus - La Specola Model, 18th century
From Opening Up a Few Corpses, 1795-1995 by John Bender of Stanford University
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Zoe Leonard, Wax Anatomical Model with Pearls, 1990
“Why photography? Why this medium? Of course there are many uses of photography, artists like Cindy Sherman who essentially document a performance, or photojournalists like Susan Meiselas or Donald McCullum, or fine artists like Penn and Weston. For me photography is intrinsically about observation. It’s about being present in and having a certain perspective on, the world around me. It’s not so much about creating, or my imagination — as drawing, for instance, may be. It’s more about responding. Choosing to look at certain objects or situations. It’s not just what I’m looking at but how I look. Photographs play with the idea of absolute truth. When people look at a photograph, they believe it. We believe that it exposes reality. That a portrait can show someone’s true character. If you see a picture of something, you believe it really happened that way. Pictures are proof. My photographs crawl along that edge. I document the world, but from my own biased point of view. I want to draw the viewer into the process of looking so we can look at these things together. I want to show you what I see. I take pictures of what moves me. Sometimes it’s beauty — the waterfalls, the ocean. Things that fill me with awe. Sometimes it’s gathering evidence, spying on our culture. Things that scare me or disgust me or make me angry. The one part that’s frustrating is if I’m feeling a certain way or want to express certain thoughts, I have to actually find something out in the world that visually conveys that to me, something to take pictures of.”
— Zoe Leonard interviewed in Journal of Contemporary Art
The Josephinum : Vienna, Austria
“Anatomical Venus” Wax model with human hair in rosewood and Venetian glass case
Workshop of Clemente Susini of Florence, 1781-1786
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Anatomical Venus, 1782, by Clemente Susini and workshop
From the Getty Villa’s Color of Life Exhibition
Photo by Saulo Bambi, Museo di Storia Naturale “La Specola” Florence, Italy
Source: Flickr / astropop
While perusing the library shelves, I found an exhibition catalogue of Hungarian artist Drozdik Orshi’s work. It’s labeled “Medical Erotic”… very curious…
The formations of Body Self, was based on earlier research in science museums, especially medical museum displays. Its central element is the Medical Venus, an 18th century anatomical wax-model made by Susini for medical studies. This embodiment emblematizes of cultural archeology, the female body under the scrutiny of the medical gaze.
These are quite lovely. There’s a kind of Guignol-esque voluptuousness to the close-ups of the submissively tilted back head juxtaposed against the gloss of the viscera. And I love the pearls.
Couldn’t resist more images from the exhibition:
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