The Anatomical Venus

by Joanna Ebenstein, Founder of Morbid Anatomy, Creative Director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum
Published by Thames and Hudson and Artbook / D.A.P., May 2016
ORDER: US here; All others here.
"...wonderful and epically illustrated book" Gaby Wood, Author of Edison's Eve, for The Telegraph
"Fabulous … A mesmerizing marriage of art and science" The Tatler
"...evoke[s] a range of emotions, including horror, awe, and, most of all, deep interest." 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.'" Loren Oyler, Vice Magazine
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.

Joanna Ebenstein is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, writer, lecturer and graphic designer. She originated the Morbid Anatomy blog and website, and is cofounder and creative director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York. She is coauthor of Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy, with Dr. Pat Morris; coeditor of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology, with Colin Dickey; and acted as curatorial consultant to Wellcome Collection’s Exquisite Bodies exhibition in 2009. She has also worked with such institutions as the New York Academy of Medicine, the Dittrick Museum and the Vrolik Museum. She is also a descendant of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, legendary creator of The Golem in 16th century Prague.
Reviews of and press for The Anatomical Venus

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