Monday, March 31, 2014

Official Provisional Charter to Operate Morbid Anatomy Museum Devoted to "Liminal, Interdisciplinary, or Marginal" Artifacts!

The Morbid Anatomy Museum just received its official provisional charter to, in the words of the charter itself:
a) To operate a museum to promote, support, and present exhibitions of artifacts and artworks rarely featured in traditional museums due to their liminal, interdisciplinary, or marginal nature;in the words of the charter; b. To foster community awareness and appreciation of art, artifacts and ideas that do not conform to mainstream culture; c. To provide and maintain an archive relating to the topics presented, ideas explored, and craft represented by the featured exibitions; d. To promote and showcase the work of lesser-known local and international artists, makers and craftspeople whose work does not conform to mainstream art culture; e. To organize and host speaking engagements related to the topics explored by the exhibitions and the archive. 
Please consider donating to our Kickstarter campaign today to help make this the best museum it can be--for all of us!--at

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Madrid Anatomical Theatre, "Anatomía Completa del Hombre," 1728

The Madrid anatomy theatre, engraving by Matías de Irala, from Martín Martínez's Anatomía completa del hombre, Madrid, 1728. Courtesy of the Biblioteca y Museo historicomédicos del Instituto López Piñero de Historia de la Ciencia y Documentación (CSIC/Universitat de València).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Sending your Prayers to Me Will Cure the Ailment of the Soul" or The Bayer Aspirin Prayer Card: Guest post by Laetitia Barbier

One of the more intriguing new additions to the Morbid Anatomy collection is this glow-in-the-dark Bayer Aspirin Prayer card. Its donor, Enric H. March of the wonderful Barcelona history blog Bereshit explained to me that it dates from the 1940s and was produced during the Spanish Civil Postwar, while the Nazis were reshaping the map of Europe.

How to explain this heady mix of Christian imagery and medicine? In March's words: "aspirin and sacred wafer are similar in form and content, and complement each other: where there is no faith, aspirin; where there is aspirin, faith. This image is made with fluorescent paint, and lights the darkness. If you look intently image for thirty seconds and then directs you to view a white surface, it appears God. True. I do not need faith. As with aspirin."

Following is a guest post by Morbid Anatomy Library head Librarian Laetitia Barbier based into her research into this wonderful new addition to our collection:
After the Congress of Curious People in Barcelona, Joanna came back with a suitcase full of newly acquired books and artifacts for the Library. Within all these treasures, one piece of ephemera was particularly fascinating and enigmatic to me: a Bayer-produced religious card which appeared in Spain around the 1940s, and which was kindly donated by Enric H. March.

If “The Sacred Heart of Jesus” is fairly common motif  in catholic devotional icons, this one revealed itself to one of a kind. Beneath its minimal, black and white design, this compassionate-looking Christ had indeed more than one story to tell.

First curious fact: the right hand-corner is embossed with a cross-like logo which has nothing religious, as its the emblem of BAYER, the german pharmaceutical firm which synthesized and patterned Aspirin in the 19th Century. A “major remedy,” and a universal one, as indicated the small text in spanish that Jesus points-up to our attention with his benedictory hand gesture. I was pretty confused myself: was this a pious image or a commercial ad? The idea that a Jesus image could become an advocate of Aspirin’s effervescence and miraculous virtues was odd and pretty incongruous. However, it appeared clear that BAYER designed this object to be both a religious icon and a way to publicize their medicine.
In the manner of catholic prayer cards, The BAYER Sacred Heart was probably mass produced as a devotional object that people could carry around in books or wallet and use for private veneration. Nowadays, pharmaceutical firms give away pens, mugs, and other every-day objects to potential clients, so why not an icon when you want to seduce a Roman Catholic country? Moreover, the cardboard icon is coated with glow-in-the-dark-ink, leaving Jesus’s heart to glare metaphorically once the lights go out, after the night-time prayer. This card had to become a major artifact in people’s daily religious routine.

But beyond its novelty aspect, its most fascinating side dwell the underlying message which form the core of this twisted commercial strategy. If this Christ could talk, he will probably whispers to us this exact slogan: "Sending your prayers to me will cure the ailment of the soul. But for the prosaic torments of the human body, there is Bayer Aspirin.”
This is the third guest post Laetitia has written based on her favorite curiosities in the Morbid Anatomy Library; to see all posts by Laetitia, click here. Click on images to see larger, more detailed versions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Picturing the Shattered Faces of War: A Guest Post by Kristin Hussey, Hunterian Museum, London

Kristin Hussey--Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons with responsibility for the Odontological Collection--has kindly agreed to write a series of guest posts for Morbid Anatomy about some of the most curious objects in her collection.

The fourth post from that series follows; you can view all posts in this series by clicking here.
Picturing the shattered faces of War: First World War dental radiographs
The Victorian era was a crucial time of development for the dental profession, yet nothing could have prepared late 19th century dental practitioners for the massive facial trauma wrought by the First World War (1914-1918). In a conflict fought in trenches, soldier’s heads were the most vulnerable area in the line of fire. While steel helmets undoubtedly saved lives, ricocheting bullets caused unprecedented facial injuries. Mechanized warfare sent soldier home from the Front with disfiguring blast injuries; their shattered jaws held together by wire plating and splints made from whatever materials the clearing stations had to hand.

Many British soldiers with jaw injuries found themselves bound for the Croydon War Hospital outside London to a specialist unit headed by James Frank Colyer (1866-1954), a dental surgeon and the curator of the Odontological Society Museum since 1900. Today the Odontological Collection holds a collection of 23 radiographs, also known as skiagrams, showing the shattered jaws of Colyer’s soldier patients.

Colyer’s prescription for healing fractured jaws was simple but effective. First the patients’ mouths needed to be cleaned and sterilized as their injuries often became infected in the time it took to reach the hospital. Once radiographs were taken, they were taken to the operating theatre to reduce the fracture as much as possible. Colyer was particularly adamant that teeth needed to be removed from the fracture line as these often became septic, keeping the bone from healing. Then supportive splints, rest and a carefully selected diet was what was needed to get Britain’s soldiers fighting fit. For his work at the Croydon Hospital, Colyer was knighted in 1920.

The collection of radiographs in the Odontological Collection is interesting both as a record of First World War injuries, as well as serving as a reminder of the incredible importance of x-ray technology in the early twentieth century. X-rays, also known as roentgen rays, had only been discovered by German Professor William Röntgen in 1895. The new technology was put to use almost immediately in the medical world, and many major hospitals had x-ray departments by 1897. By the time the First World War was raging on the Continent, portable x-ray units were widely used by the military and such equipment could be found at most clearing stations and base hospitals. Although the images are not as detailed as they are today, the radiographs were essential in identifying foreign bodies and fractures previously invisible to the dentist’s eye.
  1. The x-ray equipment at The Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, c. 1917-1920. Courtesy of the Antony Wallace Archive of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS)
  2. Radiograph of a fractured jaw caused by a rifle bullet, 1915-1919. (RCSOM/F 9.42) Copyright the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  3. Radiograph of a fractured jaw resulting from a fall from a mast, 1915-1919. (RCSOM/F 8.3) Copyright the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  4. A portable x-ray installation suitable for use in war, 1915. Copyright Wellcome Library, London.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Saint Agatha and Preserved Breasts: Guest Post by Evan Michelson, TV's "Oddities" and Morbid Anatomy Museum

Below is a guest post by Evan Michelson, board member of The Morbid Anatomy Museum and co-star of TV's "Oddities," from our recent trip exploring the history of the preservation and display of the human body in Italy. Text by Evan, and photo by myself.
Joanna Ebenstein shot this at the Museo di Anatomia Umana located in the medical school in Pisa, Italy. I am holding a human breast, preserved through mercury injection using the Mascagni technique; you can still see the metal glistening in the vessels running through the glazed, preserved skin. This specimen has an ancient and somewhat festive look; a cross between a holy relic and marzipan. It is typical of a certain school of Italian anatomical preservation where the line between anatomical didacticism and a more decorative, metaphorical presentation is often blurred.
In Italy, the healing powers of science and medicine often walk hand-in-hand with the miraculous, restorative powers of the saints. St. Agatha of Sicily, patron saint of breast cancer (among other things) is often depicted presenting her amputated breasts on a tray. It is said that Agatha was martyred for being a virtuous woman who refused the advances of a local Roman prelate; in the course of his retaliatory torture her breasts were torn off (a not-uncommon punishment for women, much documented during the Medieval period). St. Peter visited Agatha in her jail cell, where he miraculously restored her mutilated mammaries. 

Breast cancer surgery was frequently (but not always) fatal for most of recorded human history: the cancer was often found too late and the surgery itself, performed in highly unsanitary conditions, often led to serious complications. By the time a woman sought medical help, she was usually in great distress - obviously disfigured and/or in serious pain. A terrifying, risky visit to the surgeon was the only option left to her. It is only relatively recently that early detection and advanced surgical techniques have made seemingly-miraculous breast reconstruction a common occurrence. Anatomical collections like the one in Pisa had an important part to play in the progress of scientific and medical advancement. Mysterious, strangely decorative preservations like this breast are a part of that story.
You can read more of Evan's writings on her Facebook page by clicking here. You can find out more about the museum by clicking here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Morbid Anatomy Museum is Coming Soon and it Needs Your Help!

For over six years, Morbid Anatomy has been showcasing, preserving, and championing forgotten and liminal artifacts, art, and ideas, providing a home for those things which would otherwise fall through the cracks of collection, informed discussion and exhibition. Now, Morbid Anatomy is moving into a 3-floor, 4,200 square foot building in the Gowanus and completely renovating it. But to do it--and to make it the most fantastic space possible--we need your help!

Towards that end, we have just launched a Kickstarter campaign--which you can view by clicking here--featuring such exciting awards as limited edition prints by artists Mark Ryden and Mark Dion (3rd and 4th images down); "experiential awards" with stars of TV's Oddities including a trip to Brimfield antiques market with Evan Michelson, shooting antique guns with Mike Zohn and a private tour of Ryan Matthew Cohn's astounding home museum; a collectable set piece from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas; tickets to our popular Morbid Anatomy Museum annual Day of the Dead bus trip; a private party in the museum; special Morbid Anatomy merch; and much, much more!

You can find out more--and contribute to what we hope you'll agree is a very worthy cause!--by clicking here. You can watch the wonderful intro video byfilmmaker in residence Ronni Thomas of The Midnight Archive and narrated by Oddities's Evan Michelson above.

Beyond the great awards, why should you considering lending your support to The Morbid Anatomy Museum? Here are a few reasons: it will be a beautiful and inspiring space to foster our unique international community of supporters, friends, artists, rogue scholars and like-minded enthusiasts; it will enshrine that which we hold dear; and it will be a place to study, to delight; a place to “meet the others.” It will also feature:
  • An inaugural temporary exhibition on 19th century anthropomorphic taxidermist Walter Potter, which will reunite many pieces from his now divided museum include the incredible circa 1890 Kitten Wedding (second image down)
  • An enlarged, beautiful library to house our rapidly expanding collection of over 2,500 books
  • An exhibition space to showcase our ever-growing permanent collection 
  • A gift shop with our own quirky merch, taxidermy, waxworks, curiosia and obscure books from around the world
  • A café serving espresso and pastries seven days a week, with plans to expand to a full bar
  • More publications by Morbid Anatomy Press
  • A new lecture and event space capable of holding twice our current numbers featuring talks by Morbid Anatomy favorites such as Stanley Burns (The Burns Archive), Paul Koudounaris (Empire of Death), Amy Herzog, Caitlin Doughty (Ask a Mortician), and Evan Michelson and Mike Zohn of TV’s Oddities.
  • Expanded public programing including visiting international scholars such as Richard Barnett (Wellcome Collection), Mel Gordon (Voluptuous Panic, Grand Guignol) and John Troyer (Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath)
  • More field trips and classes, and live-casting of lectures
  • A film branch, with filmmaker in residence Ronni Thomas of The Midnight Archive
  • A rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a cocktail while taking in breathtaking views of industrial Brooklyn and the mighty Gowanus Canal
Again, you can find out more--and donate now!--by clicking here. Whether you can contribute or not, we hope very much to see you soon in the new museum!

Images, top to bottom:
  1. Rendering of the Morbid Anatomy Museum by Architects Robert Kirkbride and Anthony Cohn
  2. Kitten Wedding by Walter Potter; to be on view at The Morbid Anatomy Museum in June
  3. Mark Ryden, “Tree of Mystery”An limited edition artwork by Mark Ryden in a beautiful hand-carved wood frame
  4. Limited edition signed and number print by Mark Dion, available only as part of this kickstarter!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Heroic Figure of Death with Three Female Allegories, Pen and Ink, 18th Century?

An heroic figure of Death with three female allegories. Pen and ink drawing. 18th Century? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Two Allegorical Figures, Lithograph, Wellcome Images

Two allegorical figures: a skeleton holding a scythe and a ball of fire stands next to a female figure. Lithograph. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Ink and Silver: Medicine, Photography, and the Printed Book, 1845-1880," Columbia University Medical Center, NYC

Stephen E. Novak--Head, Archives & Special Collections at A.C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University Medical Center--just sent word of this wonderful looking free lecture on 19th century medicine and photography taking place at Columbia University Medical Center on Thursday, April 3. Full details follow. Hope very much to see you there
History of the Health Sciences Lecture Series
Ink and Silver: Medicine, Photography, and the Printed Book, 1845-1880
Stephen J. Greenberg, MSLS, PhD, Coordinator of Public Services, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Refreshments, 5:30, Lecture 6pm
Russ Berrie Pavilion, Room 1
1150 St. Nicholas Avenue at West 168th Street
Sponsored by the Columbia University Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library
Free and Open to the Public
The impact of the introduction of photography after 1839 on the arts and popular culture has long been extensively explored.  The use of photography in medicine has also attracted the interest of historians and archivists, resulting in many significant collections of material both in public and private hands.
However, far too often, individual images have been made to stand alone, far removed from their original context, and therefore mysterious to the viewer. Why were these pictures taken? Who saw them? Were they meant for private study or professional publication?  How did they reflect the techniques and aesthetics of the rest of contemporary photography? Most importantly, how, in a purely technical sense, did one produce and publish medical photographs in the 19th century?
Dr. Greenberg will address the use of photography in 19th-century printed medical books, both from technological and aesthetic viewpoints, using the vast photographic resources of the National Library of Medicine to highlight milestones in the history of medical photography, and to explain how they were presented to the viewer.
The lecture is on Thursday, April 3 at 6pm in Room 1 of the Russ Berrie Pavilion.  Refreshments will be served beginning at 5:30.
Image: from G.-B. Duchenne’s 1862 Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Museo Roca, The Parade of Monsters, and Spanish Popular Anatomical Museums at The Barcelona Congress for Curious People!

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 Horrors
Museum 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."