The Anatomical Venus
Morbid Anatomy Museum, Joanna Ebenstein

The Anatomical Venus

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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 of as a means to teach human anatomy without 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 beatific 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. Deftly crafted dissectable female wax models and slashed beauties of the world’s anatomy museums and fairgrounds of the 18th and 19th centuries take centre stage in this disquieting volume. Since their creation in late 18th-century Florence, these wax women have seduced, intrigued and amazed. Today, they also confound, troubling the edges of our neat categorical divides: life and death, science and art, body and soul, effigy and pedagogy, spectacle and education, kitsch and art. Incisive commentary and captivating imagery reveal the evolution of these enigmatic sculptures from wax effigy to fetish figure and the embodiment of the uncanny.

Review
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. --The Guardian

You're about to enter a thrilling world --BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour

...enchanting and repulsive book. --Priscilla Frank Huffington Post

The Strangest Book of 2016...seductive and confounding. --Publisher's Weekly

Today, it is tempting to see the Anatomical Venus as a tragic victim, a disturbing symbol of men's desire to possess a passive woman. But The Anatomical Venus also offers convincing reasons to see the startling Sleeping Beauty, lovely even with her entrails showing, as something much more significant. 'Perhaps the draw of the Anatomical Venus comes from an unspoken, intuited resolution of our own divided nature,' Ebenstein writes, 'an unconscious recognition of another avenue abandoned, in which beauty and science, religion and medicine, soul and body might be one.' --Lauren Oyler Vice Magazine

Simply put, a relic of another time. --Bria Smith, Milk

What Ebenstein argues is beguiling to our contemporary brains is that the figures weren't strictly medical, but beautiful as well. --Lauren Oyler, Vice.com

The Anatomical Venus is literally uncanny, by Freud s definition, everything that was meant to remain secret and hidden has come into the open . --Zoe Williams, The Guardian

Wonderful and epically illustrated book. --Gaby Wood The Telegraph

1 of 25 Amazing New Books for Spring. --Bess Lovejoy Mental Floss

In this exquisitely illustrated study, artist Ebenstein, founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, finds her peculiar subject at the intersection of science and art in 18th-century Florence. The original Anatomical Venus is a life-size, dissectible female figure, meticulously sculpted from delicately pigmented wax by artist Clemente Susini for Florence s Natural History Museum. The Venus and her subsequent wax sisters were created with the aim of teaching anatomy to a popular audience. The placid faces of these figures are framed by human hair, and they are often bedecked with necklaces and silk bows. They recline languorously on satin cushions. Various sections of these Slashed Beauties, as they came to be called, can be removed to show the organs and the muscles beneath the skin. Created in Europe at a time when public executions and dissections were forms of entertainment and the Paris morgue was considered a major tourist attraction, these wax creations were not perceived as disturbing to viewers. This book raises intriguing questions about science, religion, philosophy, beauty, sex, desire, and art while tracing the influence of these macabre sculptures through the centuries. Ebenstein touches on fetishism, necrophilia, dancing dolls, sex toys, and even Resusci Anne, the doll created in the 1960 to teach CPR. The subject is explored just as astutely visually, with images that evoke a range of emotions, including horror, awe, and, most of all, deep interest.--Publishers Weekly

'Captivating' --RA Magazine

Wonderful and epically illustrated --The Telegraph

Fabulous … A mesmerising marriage of art and science. --Tatler

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