Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Anatomy as Art" Auction at Christie's, October 5th

I received an email from a fellow named Jeremy Norman about this amazing looking auction to be held at Christie's in New York City. The auction is called Anatomy as Art: The Dean Edell Medical Collection, and Mr. Norman has written the annotations for the catalog. At the auction, to be held on October 5th, you can bid on works on paper by D'Agoty, Ruysch, and Fritz Kahn; you can even buy your own anatomical waxes (seemingly a more affordable option if you look at the predicted prices.)

Mr. Norman is also the man behind the site called History of Science where one can find out news related to all things history of science, purchase rare books and luxury reprints of rare books from the history of medicine, and peruse his encylopedic collection of links.

All images here are lots for sale in this auction and taken from the Christie's website. You can order a copy of the illustrated catalogue here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Taxidermia Wurzeltodensis

Wonderful compendium exploring the ways in which taxidermy has been used as a form of creative expression, past and present, on the excellent Wurzeltod blog. Click here. Via Bibliodyssey.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cabaret du Néant (Tavern of the Dead) c.1890

Came across a reference to the fascinating (and kind of unbelievable) Cabaret du Néant in the book Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, And Religion In America.The quote reads:
In the 1890s, the Cabaret du Néant (of Tavern of the Dead) first opened its production in Paris and later in New York City. After entering the Cabaret, spectators followed a "monk" down a blackened hall to a café with candles on coffin-shaped tables where they could order refreshments from waiters in funeral garb. A lectured called their attention to paintings of figures that dissolved into paintings of skeletons. While bells tolled and a funeral march played, the monk led the audience to a second chamber; here, a volunteer was asked to step up on a stage and enter a standing casket. After the volunteer was wrapped in a white shroud the spectators gasped at an apparent "X-ray" effect--actually a simpler optical effect--as the man dissolved into a skeleton and then once again returned to plain sight as the skeleton disappeared. In the last chamber, using a similar optical effect, a live spirit appeared to walk around an audience volunteer who mounted the stage to sit at a table.

Early goth amusement? Death themed bar? Were the 1890s the coolest time to be alive? More here and here, but little real information I could find in English. Does anyone have any more information on this? If so, please share!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Skeleton Orchestra

Another great image from Corbis images.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

19th-Century Persian Anatomical Study

From Corbis Images.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Surrealism and Anatomical Waxes

An interesting piece about the influence of popular anatomical waxes on the work of Paul Delvaux. Full text below, original here.
Delvaux and the Inaccessible Woman
Two exhibitions of the Belgian Surrealist Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) were on view in Madrid this spring, "Drawings of a Lifetime" at Fundación Carlos de Amberes and "Paul Delvaux, Paintings" at the Fundación Juan March. When it comes to Delvaux, all I can say is never underestimate the power of a wax museum. Pierre Spitzner's Grand Museum of Anatomy and Hygiene, installed early this century in a Brussels fair, was a major influence on Delvaux.

"This place," wrote the artist, "left a profound mark in my life that stayed with me ...a total turn in my concept of painting. . . . [I realized] painting could express drama without losing its plastic character." Judging from Delvaux's work, the expression came forth, but most of the drama stayed inside. His drawings of goddesses, nymph-like creatures and large-eyed maternal figures are as full and round as they are contained.

Delvaux's major influences include De Chirico, Dalí and fellow Belgian René Magritte, though his work has none of the shock value of Magritte and none of Dalí's famous 'paranoiac' method. It does however exemplify consummate Surrealist technique in the paintings and a gentle magnetism in the drawings. Most interesting is the drawing of a wax Venus in the Grand Museum of Hygiene that Delvaux found completely absorbing. Reclining inside a glass chamber, the wax figure was connected to an apparatus that made her appear to breathe. This waxy Aphrodite inspired Delvaux to paint versions of the inaccessible woman for the rest of his days.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes The Bogey Man!

"Children have You ever met The Bogeyman before?" A "children's classic" from by Henry Hall and his Orchestra.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Morgues in Parisian Popular Culture (1867)

I came across the following passage in Zola's Therese Raquin (1867), which nicely illustrates the social scene of the Parisian morgue in the 19th C. The image comes from Corbis Images, and its caption reads: "THE MORGUE AT PARIS-THE LAST SCENE OF A TRAGEDY. A group of people peer through the windows of a morgue in Paris at corpses of a man and woman."
...Laurent imposed on himself the task of passing each morning by the Morgue, on the way to his office. He had made up his mind to attend to the business himself. Notwithstanding that his heart rose with repugnance, notwithstanding the shudders that sometimes ran through his frame, for over a week he went and examined the countenance of all the drowned persons extended on the slabs.

When he entered the place an unsavoury odour, an odour of freshly washed flesh, disgusted him and a chill ran over his skin: the dampness of the walls seemed to add weight to his clothing, which hung more heavily on his shoulders. He went straight to the glass separating the spectators from the corpses, and with his pale face against it, looked. Facing him appeared rows of grey slabs, and upon them, here and there, the naked bodies formed green and yellow, white and red patches. While some retained their natural condition in the rigidity of death, others seemed like lumps of bleeding and decaying meat. At the back, against the wall, hung some lamentable rags, petticoats and trousers, puckered against the bare plaster. Laurent at first only caught sight of the wan ensemble of stones and walls, spotted with dabs of russet and black formed by the clothes and corpses. A melodious sound of running water broke the silence.

Little by little he distinguished the bodies, and went from one to the other. It was only the drowned that interested him. When several human forms were there, swollen and blued by the water, he looked at them eagerly, seeking to recognise Camille. Frequently, the flesh on the faces had gone away by strips, the bones had burst through the mellow skins, the visages were like lumps of boned, boiled beef. Laurent hesitated; he looked at the corpses, endeavouring to discover the lean body of his victim. But all the drowned were stout. He saw enormous stomachs, puffy thighs, and strong round arms. He did not know what to do. He stood there shuddering before those greenish-looking rags, which seemed like mocking him, with their horrible wrinkles.

One morning, he was seized with real terror. For some moments, he had been looking at a corpse, taken from the water, that was small in build and atrociously disfigured. The flesh of this drowned person was so soft and broken-up that the running water washing it, carried it away bit by bit. The jet falling on the face, bored a hole to the left of the nose. And, abruptly, the nose became flat, the lips were detached, showing the white teeth. The head of the drowned man burst out laughing...

When there were no drowned persons on the back row of slabs, he breathed at ease; his repugnance was not so great. He then became a simple spectator, who took strange pleasure in looking death by violence in the face, in its lugubriously fantastic and grotesque attitudes. This sight amused him, particularly when there were women there displaying their bare bosoms. These nudities, brutally exposed, bloodstained, and in places bored with holes, attracted and detained him.

Once he saw a young woman of twenty there, a child of the people, broad and strong, who seemed asleep on the stone. Her fresh, plump, white form displayed the most delicate softness of tint. She was half smiling, with her head slightly inclined on one side. Around her neck she had a black band, which gave her a sort of necklet of shadow. She was a girl who had hanged herself in a fit of love madness.

Each morning, while Laurent was there, he heard behind him the coming and going of the public who entered and left.

The morgue is a sight within reach of everybody, and one to which passers-by, rich and poor alike, treat themselves. The door stands open, and all are free to enter. There are admirers of the scene who go out of their way so as not to miss one of these performances of death. If the slabs have nothing on them, visitors leave the building disappointed, feeling as if they had been cheated, and murmuring between their teeth; but when they are fairly well occupied, people crowd in front of them and treat themselves to cheap emotions; they express horror, they joke, they applaud or whistle, as at the theatre, and withdraw satisfied, declaring the Morgue a success on that particular day.

Laurent soon got to know the public frequenting the place, that mixed and dissimilar public who pity and sneer in common. Workmen looked in on their way to their work, with a loaf of bread and tools under their arms. They considered death droll. Among them were comical companions of the workshops who elicited a smile from the onlookers by making witty remarks about the faces of each corpse. They styled those who had been burnt to death, coalmen; the hanged, the murdered, the drowned, the bodies that had been stabbed or crushed, excited their jeering vivacity, and their voices, which slightly trembled, stammered out comical sentences amid the shuddering silence of the hall.

There came persons of small independent means, old men who were thin and shrivelled-up, idlers who entered because they had nothing to do, and who looked at the bodies in a silly manner with the pouts of peaceful, delicate-minded men. Women were there in great numbers: young work-girls, all rosy, with white linen, and clean petticoats, who tripped along briskly from one end of the glazed partition to the other, opening great attentive eyes, as if they were before the dressed shop window of a linendraper. There were also women of the lower orders looking stupefied, and giving themselves lamentable airs; and well-dressed ladies, carelessly dragging their silk gowns along the floor.

On a certain occasion Laurent noticed one of the latter standing at a few paces from the glass, and pressing her cambric handkerchief to her nostrils. She wore a delicious grey silk skirt with a large black lace mantle; her face was covered by a veil, and her gloved hands seemed quite small and delicate. Around her hung a gentle perfume of violet.

She stood scrutinising a corpse. On a slab a few paces away, was stretched the body of a great, big fellow, a mason who had recently killed himself on the spot by falling from a scaffolding. He had a broad chest, large short muscles, and a white, well-nourished body; death had made a marble statue of him. The lady examined him, turned him round and weighed him, so to say, with her eyes. For a time, she seemed quite absorbed in the contemplation of this man. She raised a corner of her veil for one last look. Then she withdrew...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Top 10 Human Sideshow Freaks

A list on list verse. Via Ectoplasmosis.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Enigmatic Found Photo

A found photo of what appears to be a parade organized around a gigantic Japanese baby in a carriage? I stumbled upon this terrifying yet fascinating photograph at the Hartville Flea Market on a trip to Ohio this weekend. Does anyone have any idea about what might be going on here? Or where it might be happening? Click on image to see larger version for more detail; the original quality was pretty poor, as you can see.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

La Specola in 4D

A short film clip about the anatomical models of La Specola in Florence, Italy. See it here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Alabama, Anyone?

The details have been cemented for my upcoming exhibition Anatomical Theatre: Depictions of The Body, Disease and Death in Medical Museums of the Western World at The University of Alabama at Birmingham's Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences. This will be a photographic survey of medical museums with an eye towards their art and history, and how they function as cultural artifacts of a particular time and place. If anyone resides 'round Alabama way, I would like to cordially invite you to attend both the exhibition opening and the lecture and slide show I will be giving in conjunction with the opening. There will be wine and cheese amidst photographs of medical museums from around the world. What could be more fun on a hot, humid Birmingham afternoon? Hope to see you there! Details above. If you can't make it, no worries. This is to be a traveling exhibition so, with any luck, you'll have the opportunity to drink wine among anatomical models closer to home.

The photos in Anatomical Theatre were taken on a month-long pilgrimage to a number of medical museums throughout Europe and The United States. At each, I sat with curators and keepers, asked questions, and photographed the collections, sometime behind the scenes as well as the museum displays proper. I received a Reynolds Associates Research Fellowship In the History of the Health Sciences from UAB to work on this exhibition.

Some of the museums I visited and photographed: The Vrolik in Amsterdam, La Specola in Florence, Musée Dupuytren in Paris, The Josephinum and The Federal Pathologic-Anatomical Museum in Vienna, The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C., The Museum of Anatomical Waxes (Museo delle Cere Anatomiche) in Bologna, the Mobile Medical Museum and the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences in Alabama, The Semmelweis Museum in Budapest, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, The Gordon Museum in London, and The Hunterian Museums in London and Glasgow.

Thanks so much to all the curators who took the time to open their cabinets and talk to me about this project. And a special thanks to photographer Rosamond Purcell for loaning me one of her wonderful Ruysch photographs for this exhibition!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Anatomical Image Browsing and More on a Promising New Site

Check out, a project by NMSI, an organization of British science and technology museums. They've got some interesting things up their sleeve. They describe themselves as a "site [that] brings together images and viewpoints to create insights into science and culture." The site has an area for image searching, reading, debating, as well as a place to create your own image galleries.

From a recent posting on Metafilter.