Last week, we celebrated day one of the Barcelona Congress for Curious People with a special "Medicine and Science in Old Barcelona" walking tour; it featured a variety of anatomically-themed lectures, including one in the astounding 18th Century Royal Academy of Medicine's Anatomical Theatre, and another by Enric H. March--author of the wonderful (but sadly Catalan language only) blog Bereshit--on the history of popular anatomical museums in Barcelona such as the Museo Roca and its "Parade of Monsters."
March explained to me that he became interested in popular anatomical museums when he happened upon some ephemera related to The Museo Roca at a local antique shop in 2008. He has since done a great deal of research, including some in tandem with Alfons Zarzoso--curator of the Museu d'Història de la Medicina de Catalunya--who was the first to introduce me to the topic many years ago. We ended up featuring a number of pieces from this collection for the Wellcome Collection's 2009 exhibition Exquisite Bodies: or the Curious and Grotesque History of the Anatomical Model.
El Periódico, a much read Spanish newspaper, ran a lovely piece about our day of anatomy, featuring an interview with March about his work, popular anatomical museums in general and the Museo Roca; you can see the article by clicking here, or read it in English (via Google Translate, with a few of my own fine tunings) following.
Above are some images, and also an utterly mind-blowing video montage by Yolanda Fontal which March included in his talk. It features, among other things, a walk-through of the collection when it was still in private hands in Barcelona. VERY much worth a watch, but also, due to horrific diseased genitals, definitely NSFW.
If this is of interest, definitely check out Enric H. March amazing Bereshit blog by clicking here.
The Museum of HorrorsMuseum Roca came to Barcelona in 1900 as a show where people queued to see naked bodies. A Belgian billionaire bought the collection and exhibits in Antwerp
Archive Museum of Roca
Diseases and newspaper. The consequences of venereal diseases were spreading to Chinatown.
Phenomena like the giant spider from Japan, the Siamese twins, monsters, real human fetuses, creepy close-ups of genitals deformed by venereal diseases. All this and many more dreadful images formed the Roca Museum, founded by Francisco Roca, a professional illusionist and promoter of shows in Carrer Nou de la Rambla 1900.
Locals lined up to see what was exhibited in those rooms: waxworks naked and slit open to show the inside of the body, and other amazing and creepy images aroused popular curiosity for the medical or educational interest. "Impressionable people should abstain from entering," warned a poster at the entrance of the museum, which years later moved to Parallel, and ended with the pieces stored for decades in a storage room.
Sale and transfer
"Francis Arellano, collector and antiques dealer, bought the entire collection. Nobody in Barcelona was interested, and they ended at the hands of a Belgian millionaire currently who currently exhibits them in his private residence in Antwerp," reveals Enric H. March, author of the blog Bereshit, yesterday during the first day of the Congress of Curious People, held until March 2 in Barcelona. He gave an illustrated lecture on the history of anatomical museums during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, notably the the Roca Museum.
"It was an exhibition of wax figures depicting the human body, its physiology in health and also ravaged bycertain diseases, especially venereal ones," explains March." It was the time when the scientific expositions revealed, and museums began to exhibit what until then were private collections. Between 1849 and 1938, there were 26 anatomical collections on view in Barcelona." March is particularly interested in the Roca Museum's sociological aspect, wherein the popular of such museum rose along with a more general interest in health and hygiene.
The museum was founded Roca supported by the gentry, but soon become a popular show."Went into decline when the film came to Barcelona," he says. No longer interested or famous anatomical Venus, who not only showed their female sexual organs, pubic hair also." Something unthinkable in any graphic expression of the time, even in artistic representations."