Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Henry Wellcome's Anatomical Venus: A Missing Link? Guest Post by Joanna Ebenstein for the Wellcome Collection Blog

I was recently invited to select a single object from Blythe House--the storehouse containing the remains of early 20th century pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome's once million strong collection--for an episode of the Wellcome Collection's “The Thing Is…" From the over 100,000 amazing objects in the collection--including ivory anatomical mannequins, wax vanitas busts, antique sexual aids, Greek anatomical otives, torture devices, statues of saints and even a Peruvian mummy--I chose, it will not surprise regular readers to discover, Henry Wellcome's Wax Anatomical Venus (see above).

I had been curious about this enigmatic creature ever since Kate Forde and I featured her in the Wellcome’s 2009 Exquisite Bodies exhibition. Although diminutive--she is only three feet in length while most others are life-sized--she is still an extraordinarily uncanny and charismatic object. She was also a very mysterious object, with very little I could discover, despite my best efforts, about her provenance.

To prepare for this talk--hosted by journalist and historian Frances Stonor Saunders--I delved, with the help of my friend Ross MacFarlane, deeply into the Wellcome Library and its archives to see what I might be able learn about this mysterious artifact.

To read the full report I wrote for the Wellcome Collection blog detailing my findings--and to see many more images, including another animated GIF like the one above, compliments of Russell Dornan!--click here.

  1. Wellcome Collection’s Anatomical Venus in various stages of dissection as shown in an animated GIF. Courtesy of Wellcome Images.
  2. Catalog card for the Wellcome Anatomical Venus.

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