Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Musée de la Médecine, Brussels, Belgium






When in Belgium recently, I made a special, very rushed visit to the Musée de la Médecine in Brussels; I made the trek because I had come across a few tantalizing clues that perhaps some of the infamous Spiztner models had found their way into the collection. The Spitzner collection was a famous grouping of popular anatomical waxes exhibited around European fairgrounds in the 19th Century; The Spitzner models, and other popular anatomical exhibitions, were pruriently lowbrow, ostensibly educational exhibitions of wax anatomical models, with an emphasis on depictions of the unclothed female form, reproductive organs, and body parts ravaged by a variety of sexually transmitted diseases. They were a kind of pop-culture analogue to the academic, ostensibly neutrally scientific anatomical models, of the sort exhibited at La Specola in Florence.

I am not sure if the models on display at the Musée de la Médecine were actually from the Spitzner collection, but I saw a lot of evidence to suggest that at least some of them were, including what appeared to be original signage from the collection. Sadly, some of the models I had most hoped to see, such as the breathing anatomical woman so important to the surrealistic visions of Paul Delvaux, were not on display. I was unable to find any human being who might be able to answer my questions, so I am still unsure about the breadth or provenance of the collection. If anyone knows anything about this collection, please let me know!

Pictures above taken in the museum; view more here. For historical photos of the collection (from the book Vior-La Collection Spitzner) click here.

For more on the topic: the Spitzner Models are expounded upon quite nicely in a recent post on Bioephemera and researched wonderfully in Kathryn A. Hoffmann's revalatory "Sleeping Beauties in the Faiground: The Spitzner, Pedley and Chemisé Exhibits). See Michael Sappol's wonderful "Morbid Curiosity":The Decline and Fall of the Popular Anatomical Museum" for a history of popular anatomical museums, and a recent Morbid Anatomy post for information focussing on another collection of such models.

2 comments:

e-phemera said...

Your blog is just fantastic and fascinating! I've recently become rather interested, in a feminist-artist albeit morbid sort of way, in the topic of anatomy waxworks (particularly of the Victorian era). Can you help me in finding more images from the Spitzner and Bonardo collections?

JE said...

Hi E-phemera. I would recommend this wonderful website as a good place to start for information and theory: An Analysis of Anatomy Models from the Eighteenth, Nineteenth & Twentieth Centuries. It is by professor Susan Lamb and has great information and sources. It is difficult to find images from the Bonardo and Spitzner collections. I have the catalogue from the Bonardo collection auction, and a small Spitzner book with some dim black and white photos. Happy to show them to you if you live in the NYC area.