The Anatomical Venus
- ISBN 9780500252185
- 24.00 x 17.00 cm
- Quarter bound/PLC (no jacket)
- 366 Illustrations, 324 in colour
- First published 2016
Since their creation in late-18th-century Florence, these enigmatic sculptures have seduced, intrigued and amazed
‘Wonderful and epically illustrated’ – Telegraph
'Joanna Ebenstein’s sumptuous and therefore even more disgusting book is fascinated by this era in which “the study of nature was also the study of philosophy”; in which a body created for medical purposes could also be read as a work of art'– Guardian G2
'Fabulous … A mesmerising marriage of art and science'– Tatler
Beneath the original Venetian glass and rosewood case at La Specola in Florence lies Clemente Susini’s Anatomical Venus (c. 1790), a perfect object whose luxuriously bizarre existence challenges belief. It – or, better, she – was conceived as a means to teach human anatomy without the need for constant dissection, which was messy, ethically fraught and subject to quick decay.
This life-sized wax woman is adorned with glass eyes and human hair and can be dismembered into dozens of parts revealing, at the final remove, a tranquil foetus curled in her womb. Sister models soon appeared throughout Europe, where they not only instructed the specialist students, but also delighted the general public.
The Anatomical Venus is a celebration of these female wax models and reveals their evolution from wax effigy to fetish figure and the embodiment of the uncanny. Today, these images trouble the edges of our neat categorical divides between life and death, science and religion, body and soul, effigy and ecstasy, spectacle and education, kitsch and fine art.
Skilfully written by a curator of the macabre, the beautiful and the spiritual, this is a meticulously illustrated survey of these anatomical odalisques and the cultural and artistic intersection they inhabit.
Joanna Ebenstein runs the Morbid Anatomy blog and website, and founded the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York. Ebenstein photographs, curates and collects artefacts, images and texts relating to curious collections, cabinets of curiosity, collectors and collecting, medical museums and museums of natural history.