The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death, and the Ecstatic

Joanna Ebenstein. D.A.P., $35 (224p) ISBN 978-1-938922-91-6
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. Color illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/04/2016
Release date: 05/01/2016
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