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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged anatomy:

Honoré Fragonard’s Flayed Figures

Two hundred years before Gunther von Hagens, there was Honoré Fragonard:

The Musée Fragonard d’Alfort is a museum of anatomical oddities located within the École Nationale Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort in Paris. In addition to animal skeletons, dissections and a substantial collection of monstrosities, perhaps the museum’s most astonishing items are the famous “écorchés” (flayed figures) prepared by Honoré Fragonard, the school’s first professor of anatomy, appointed in 1766 and in 1771 dismissed from the school as a madman. His speciality was the preparation and preservation of skinned cadavers, 21 of which remain.

Fragonard’s preservation technique is described by curator Christophe Degueurce thus:

a body, chosen for its leanness, had its large superficial veins cut in several places to drain it of blood, and then it was washed and placed in a heated water bath to warm it in preparation for the injections into the heart and vessels. The substance injected was a mixture of resin, tallow, oil, and beeswax and was stained red for the arteries, blue for the veins… . Once the body had been injected, it was then dissected as rapidly as possible before decomposition set in. [Source]

[Image Sources: 1 : 2 : 3 : 4]

[Thanks to flyawayoverthemoon]

[Fragonard’s cousin, the Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, also features in the Emporium]

Image One: William Burke and William Hare’s death/life masks.
Image Two:  Said to be a piece of Burke’s brain.
Image Three: A wallet made from the skin of Burke’s hand.
Image Four: Burke’s skeleton. 

Bits and Pieces of Burke and Hare

The Burke and Hare murders were serial murders perpetrated in Edinburgh, Scotland, from 1827 to 1828. Before 1832, there were insufficient cadavers available for the teaching of anatomy in British medical schools. As medical science began to flourish in the early nineteenth century, demand rose sharply, but at the same time, the only legal supply of cadavers—the bodies of executed criminals—had fallen due to a reduction in the execution rate. This situation attracted criminals who were willing to obtain specimens by any means…

Burke and Hare murdered 17 people for this purpose, selling each of their acquisitions to Dr. Robert Knox of Edinburgh Medical School for around £10 each (approx. £1000 today). They would lure people to their inn and intoxicate them with alcohol before smothering them. They were almost undone by their 16th victim who was a well-known mentally disabled young man with a limp called “Daft Jamie”. When Dr. Knox uncovered the body the next morning, several students recognised Jamie. His head and feet were subsequently cut off. Knox denied that it was Jamie, but he apparently began to dissect the cadaver’s face first. Burke and Hare would go on to murder one more victim before they were discovered.

The evidence against the pair was not overwhelming, so Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he confessed and testified against Burke. Hare’s testimony led to Burke’s death sentence. He was hanged and then publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College. The dissecting professor dipped his quill pen into Burke’s blood and wrote “This is written with the blood of Wm Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh. This blood was taken from his head.” His skeleton and death mask are displayed at the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum whilst items, such as a calling card and wallet, made from his tanned skin are displayed at Surgeon’s Hall. The wallets were once offered for sale on the streets.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Frederik Ruysch: Anatomical Artist

Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731) was a true artist of human remains, his works being referred to in his time as “‘Rembrandts of anatomical preparation’” . A high-ranking doctor in Amsterdam, Ruysch was famed far and wide for his uncannily life-like and imaginative preparations, and he used his access as “chief instructor of midwives and ‘legal doctor’ to the court” to legally obtain scores of cadavers with which to create memorable preparations, including fanciful allegorical tableaux composed of fetal skeletons and other human body parts (above). As Steven Jay Gould explains:

Ruysch made about a dozen tableaux, constructed of human fetal skeletons with backgrounds of other body parts, on allegorical themes of death and the transiency of life…Ruysch built the ‘geological’ landscapes of these tableaux from gallstones and kidneystones, and ‘botanical’ backgrounds from injected and hardened major veins and arteries for “trees,” and more ramified tissue of lungs and smaller vessels for ‘bushes’ and ‘grass.’

The fetal skeletons, several per tableau, were ornamented with symbols of death and short life—hands may hold mayflies (which live but a day in their adult state); skulls bemoan their fate by weeping into ‘handkerchiefs’ made of elegantly injected mesentery or brain meninges; ‘snakes’ and ‘worms,’ symbols of corruption made of intestine, wind around pelvis and rib cage.

Quotations and moral exhortations, emphasizing the brevity of life and the vanity of earthly riches, festooned the compositions. One fetal skeleton holding a string of pearls in its hand proclaims, ‘Why should I long for the things of this world?’ Another, playing a violin with a bow made of a dried artery, sings, ‘Ah fate, ah bitter fate.’

[For Joe, with thanks to pink-porcupine]

(Source: morbidanatomy.blogspot.co.uk)

A Student’s Dream: Dissection Photography

Dissection of a body separated a physician from the general public [and] Being photographed with one’s cadaver visually documented the transition from lay-person to physician. In the nineteenth century, physicians hung these photographs in their medical offices … along with his diplomas. The framed dissection  photograph was an icon of medicine, and the photograph provides irrefutable evidence of a physicians training.

(Source: theburnsarchive.blogspot.co.uk)

The Dauphin’s Heart: 
Louis XVII was collateral damage in the French revolution. He was seven when the sans-culottes decided to end civilisation: ‘the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever’. And he was  ten when he died, in 1795, a lone prisoner in the Temple Tower in Paris, his mother and father having already gone to pay for their dynastic blood on the steps of Monsieur Guillotine.
At the autopsy in 1795 the doctor in attendance, Pelletan, decided (as you do) to take Louis’ heart as a souvenir. Pelletan squirreled the heart away, unseen by the other doctors, and stored it in a crystal cup in liquid on a bookshelf.
In 1810 Pelletan noticed that the heart was missing and decided that the  thief was a student of his, a Dr Tillus: in a dangerous Republican age Pelletan had told only Tillus the story of the heart. Pellatan tracked down Tillus who had just died of tuberculosis and convinced Tillus’ wife to give the heart up.
In 1828 the heart was handed over to the Archbishop of Paris in a casket with the crystal cup and various papers describing its history: the Archbishop had hoped to get it back to the royal family. But in 1830 in riots in the capital – revolutions teach bad habits – a group of ne’er-do-wells got into the Archbishop’s building and two looters, not knowing what was inside, fought over the casket. In the fight a sabre blow smashed the crystal cup and the heart disappeared. The heart was later found on the floor of the room.
In 1895 the heart was handed over to the Bourbon claimant to the throne, Don Carlos, with whom it travelled to Frohsdorf in Austria, where it sat next to Marie Antoinette’s bloodstained scarf from the day of her guillotining: ‘I thought that ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards…’ Mother and son were reunited. In 1942 the heart was taken to Italy by Don Carlos’ daughter. Then in 1975 the heart was handed over to the royal relic collection at Saint Denis where it remains to this day.
The history of the heart is not the most reliable (read MORE), but certainly it shares DNA with Marie Antoinette.

The Dauphin’s Heart: 

Louis XVII was collateral damage in the French revolution. He was seven when the sans-culottes decided to end civilisation: ‘the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever’. And he was  ten when he died, in 1795, a lone prisoner in the Temple Tower in Paris, his mother and father having already gone to pay for their dynastic blood on the steps of Monsieur Guillotine.

At the autopsy in 1795 the doctor in attendance, Pelletan, decided (as you do) to take Louis’ heart as a souvenir. Pelletan squirreled the heart away, unseen by the other doctors, and stored it in a crystal cup in liquid on a bookshelf.

In 1810 Pelletan noticed that the heart was missing and decided that the  thief was a student of his, a Dr Tillus: in a dangerous Republican age Pelletan had told only Tillus the story of the heart. Pellatan tracked down Tillus who had just died of tuberculosis and convinced Tillus’ wife to give the heart up.

In 1828 the heart was handed over to the Archbishop of Paris in a casket with the crystal cup and various papers describing its history: the Archbishop had hoped to get it back to the royal family. But in 1830 in riots in the capital – revolutions teach bad habits – a group of ne’er-do-wells got into the Archbishop’s building and two looters, not knowing what was inside, fought over the casket. In the fight a sabre blow smashed the crystal cup and the heart disappeared. The heart was later found on the floor of the room.

In 1895 the heart was handed over to the Bourbon claimant to the throne, Don Carlos, with whom it travelled to Frohsdorf in Austria, where it sat next to Marie Antoinette’s bloodstained scarf from the day of her guillotining: ‘I thought that ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards…’ Mother and son were reunited. In 1942 the heart was taken to Italy by Don Carlos’ daughter. Then in 1975 the heart was handed over to the royal relic collection at Saint Denis where it remains to this day.

The history of the heart is not the most reliable (read MORE), but certainly it shares DNA with Marie Antoinette.

The “Anatomical Machines” of the Prince of Sansevero, 1763-64:

In the Underground Chamber [of the San Severo Chapel Museum in Naples, Italy], housed in two glass cases, are the famous Anatomical Machines, i.e. the skeletons of a man and of a woman in upright position, with the artery and vein systems almost perfectly intact. The Machines were made by the doctor Giuseppe Salerno of Palermo, under the direction of Raimondo di Sangro. The discovery of notaries’ deeds and credit notes makes it possible to date these “works” to 1763-64. The two anatomical studies are the most enigmatic objects in the Sansevero Chapel. Still today, after about two-and-a-half centuries, it is still not known which procedures or materials were used to obtain such an exceptional preservation of the circulatory system. [Source]

These artefacts … were quite sensational in their time, when popular imagination held that the Prince—in his ardor for rational, materialist science—had commanded that two of his servants be killed and virtuosically embalmed. His goal in this dark deed? To create a sort of anatomical Adam and Eve, who would—from pedestals on high and forevermore—elegantly and accurately illustrate the skeletal structure, viscera, arterial system, and vein systems of the human form. Though not the most beautiful things in the world (see above) it is said their accuracy is astounding, down to the smallest detail. [Source]

The Burns Archive is a collection of over 700,000 vintage photographs noted for iconic, historical images, including medical photography, anatomical oddities, post-mortem photography and graphic detail of the darker side of life—death, disease, disaster, crime, racism, revolution, riots, and war. The Burns Archive also publishes the Sleeping Beauty series of books about memorial photography with post-mortem photographs.

The Burns Archive is made up of copy prints from the Burns Collection, the body of work of Dr. Stanley B. Burns, M.D., an ophthalmologist and its creator, curator, and proprietor. The collection is purportedly the nation’s largest of early medical photography and the most important private historic nineteenth century documentary photography collection in the world and is a unique source of historic visual documentation. This is a unique source generally available as stock photography.

The Burns Archive Official Website and Blog (more photos are available at the blog).

'Anatomical Venuses' are extremely realistic models of idealised women. These figures consist of removable parts that can be 'dissected' - a breast plate is lifted to reveal the internal organs, often with a fetus in the womb.
In the 19th century, the anatomical Venus formed the centrepiece of museums and travelling shows of all kinds, and possessed great power to draw crowds. ‘Know thyself’ was a common phrase associated with the exhibition of such models, suggesting their educational value.
In the 19th century, despite the best efforts of body snatchers, the demand from medical schools for fresh cadavers far outstripped the supply. One solution to this gruesome problem came in the form of lifelike wax models [some] models were more macabre, showing the body ravaged by ‘social diseases’ such as venereal disease, tuberculosis and alcohol and drug addiction.
With their capacity to titillate as well as educate, anatomical models became sought-after curiosities, displayed not only in dissecting rooms but also in sideshows and the curiosity cabinets of wealthy Victorian gentlemen. For a small admission fee, visitors seeking an unusual afternoon’s entertainment could visit displays of these strange dolls in London, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona.

'Anatomical Venuses' are extremely realistic models of idealised women. These figures consist of removable parts that can be 'dissected' - a breast plate is lifted to reveal the internal organs, often with a fetus in the womb.

In the 19th century, the anatomical Venus formed the centrepiece of museums and travelling shows of all kinds, and possessed great power to draw crowds. ‘Know thyself’ was a common phrase associated with the exhibition of such models, suggesting their educational value.

In the 19th century, despite the best efforts of body snatchers, the demand from medical schools for fresh cadavers far outstripped the supply. One solution to this gruesome problem came in the form of lifelike wax models [some] models were more macabre, showing the body ravaged by ‘social diseases’ such as venereal disease, tuberculosis and alcohol and drug addiction.

With their capacity to titillate as well as educate, anatomical models became sought-after curiosities, displayed not only in dissecting rooms but also in sideshows and the curiosity cabinets of wealthy Victorian gentlemen. For a small admission fee, visitors seeking an unusual afternoon’s entertainment could visit displays of these strange dolls in London, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona.

Giulio Casserio (Anatomist), Odoaro Fialetti (Artist), Tabula Anatomicae, 1627.

Giulio Casserio (Anatomist), Odoaro Fialetti (Artist)Tabula Anatomicae, 1627.

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