Friday, May 30, 2014

Call for Papers: Lost Museums Colloquium : Brown University, Providence, RI, May 7 and 8, 2015

I would like to share with you all a very exciting call for papers for an upcoming conference devoted to "lost artifacts, collections and museums" just in from our friends at the Jenks Society for Lost Museums at Brown University. Proposals can take the form of a traditional paper but can also be conceptual, poetic, and artistic, and are due on September 15, 2014. Full details below, and you can find out more here.
Call for Papers: Lost Museums Colloquium
In conjunction with the year-long exhibition project examining Brown University’s lost Jenks Museum, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and the John Carter Brown Library invite paper proposals for a colloquium on lost artifacts, collections and museums. (Other formats—conceptual, poetic, and artistic—are also invited.) The colloquium will be held at Brown University, Providence, RI, May 7 and 8, 2015.

Museums, perhaps more than any other institutions, think in the very long term: collections are forever. But the history of museums is more complicated than that. Museums disappear for many reasons, from changing ideas about what’s worth saving to the devastation of war. Museum collections disappear: deaccessioned, traded away, repatriated, lost to changing interests and the ravages of time.

We are interested in this process of decline and decay, the taphonomy of institutions and collections, as a way of shedding light not only on the history of museums and libraries, but also on the ways in which material things reflect and shape the practices of science and the humanities, and also to help museums think about current and future practices of collections and collections use.

We invite presentations from historians, curators, registrars, and collections managers, as well as from artists and activists, on topics including:

Histories of museums and types of museums: We welcome case studies of museums and categories of museums that are no more. What can we learn from museums that are no more? Cast museums, commercial museums, and dime museums have mostly disappeared. Cabinets of curiosity went out of and back into fashion. Why? What is their legacy?

Artifacts: How do specimens degrade? How have museums come to think of permanence and ephemerality? How do museums use, and “use up” collections, either for research (e.g., destructive sampling), or for education and display; how have they thought about the balance of preservation and use? How can they collect the ephemeral?

Museum collection history: How long does art and artifact really remain in the museum? Might the analysis of museum databases cast new light on the long-term history and use of collections?
“Lost and found” in the museum: How are art and artifacts “rediscovered” in museums? How do old collections regain their importance, both in artistic revivals and in new practices of “mining” the museum as artists finding new uses for old objects?

Museum collections policy: How have ideas about deaccessioning changed? How should they change? How do new laws, policies, and ethics about the repatriation of collections shape ideas about collections?

Museums going out of business: When a museum needs to close for financial or other reasons, what’s the best way to do that? Are there good case studies and legal and financial models?
The future of museum collections: How might museums think about collecting the ephemeral, or collecting for “impermanent” collections. What new strategies should museums consider for short-term collecting? How might digitization and scanning shape ideas about the permanence of collections?

Papers from the Colloquium may be published as a special issue of the Museum History Journal.

If you’d like to present at the conference, please send an abstract of about 250 words and a brief CV to Steven Lubar, lubar [at] Deadline for submission of paper proposals is September 15, 2014.

Steven Lubar
Department of American Studies
John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage
  1. Gallery of classical antiquities, Brown University, about 1893. No longer in existence. Collections apparently lost. Courtesy Brown University archives.
  2. The Jenks Museum at Brown University, about 1890. Only about 10 percent of the collections once in the Jenks Museum survive, and none of the natural history specimens. Courtesy Brown University Archives.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Curious Afterlife of Human Teeth and Cockscombs at the Hunterian Museum : Guest post by Editor Charlie Mounter

Friend of Morbid Anatomy--and editor of my recent book on Walter Potter with Dr Pat Morris--Charlie Mounter--just sent in the following guest post about one of the most infamous specimens at the London Hunterian museum--a cross-section of the head of a rooster with a human tooth surgically inserted--and its curious afterlife.
The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields sparkles with dramatically-lit specimen jars, mostly collected by John Hunter (1728–1793; top image), a surgeon and anatomist.

John Hunter was the first surgeon to produce an anatomically accurate and scientific work of dentistry. He didn’t know about blood types and the intricacies of donor acceptance or rejection, but he did successfully graft cockerels’ own spurs onto their combs (‘an old and well-known experiment’), and graft their testes into their stomachs. His methods and principles paved the way for modern transplantation techniques.

At the back of the Hunterian Museum’s crystal gallery on the ground floor (2nd image down), you can see the jar of Hunter’s experimental dental graft of a human canine tooth embedded into a cockerel’s cockscomb (third image down).

Hunter believed that the tooth had taken and grown a blood supply; he preserved the bisected comb as a rare example of a successful transplant.

An embroidered emblem of this surreal arrangement (fourth and fifth image down) is still worn on the ceremonial gowns of the Dean and board of the Faculty of Dental Surgeons.
Today, pigs’ heart valves are routinely inserted into human hearts, pluripotent stem cells have been programmed to grow human ears on the backs of mice and we’re well on our way to being able to produce organs by 3D printing. Cross-species techniques look likely to become increasingly important for our large populations, while 3D printing might allow us to synthesize animal tissues for testing and research. John Hunter’s somewhat Frankensteinian experiments led to real medical progress.

The story of John Hunter’s life and work can be read in Wendy Moore’s brilliant biography, The Knife Man (Little, Brown; bottom image).

Thanks to Hayley Kruger, Acting Head of Learning and Access at the Hunterian in London, and to the Faculty of Dental Surgeons at the Royal College of Surgeons.
  1. John Hunter (1728–1793), Surgeon and Anatomist, by Joshua Reynolds
  2. © Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  3. © Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  4. © Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  5.  Miss Kathryn Harley FDS RCS, wearing her own gown; © Faculty of Dental Surgeons at the Royal College of Surgeons

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Corpse Statue Gate of Sint Olofskapel, Amsterdam : Guest Post by Jantine Zandbergen

When in Amsterdam of late, I stumbled upon the enigmatic and beautiful gate pictured above, but could find little about it in English. Morbid Anatomy reader Jantine Zandbergen found this article in Dutch; her (very kind!) translation of it appears below. You can find out more about Jantine and her work on her website by clicking here. The photograph is my own, and the drawing comes from the original article, which can be viewed here.
Hope for a better life
The ‘Olofskapel’ (‘Olofs chapel’) originated in the 15th century, and is the second oldest church building in Amsterdam. It’s assumed the chapel was build for sailors from Norway, that’s probably why it’s named after the Norwegian king Olav who converted to Christianity among the year 1000. There are other theories about the name of the chapel though, one of them being named after Saint Odulphus, the Brabantian patron saint of dikes (the chapel is located on the ‘Zeedijk’ and ‘Seadike’).

At the end of the 15th century the chapel had been extended several times. A polygonal chapel was attached (‘Jeruzalemkapel’) which supposedly housed a copy of the Holy Grail. The chapel was torn down in 1644.

In 1917 the building lost its religious purpose. Over time it’s been used a cheese market, a food distribution center and an art contact center. The interior was destroyed by a fire in 1966 and the building now houses a conference center.

The cemetery gate
A design drawing of the port (second image down) is included in the book Architectura Moderna ofte Bouwinge van onsen tyt from 1631 which deals with the work of Hendrick de Keyser. In 1620 a cemetery was created on the Westermarkt, on the north and east side of the Westerkerk (‘Westerchurch’). The cemetery didn’t exist for long, and was moved in 1655 to the end of the Bloemgracht, now ‘Tweede Marnixplantsoen’. The gate to the cemetery on the side of the Prinsengracht is now the entrance to the Prinsenhuis next to the church. The southern gate was relocated to the Olofskapel.

Corpse statue
The sandstone statue is placed above the main entrance, it was made by Hendrick de Keyser. The caption ‘Spes Altera Vitae’ means ‘Hope for a better life’. There are other ‘corpse statues’ like this one known by the hand of sculptor Colijn de Nole: they can be found in the Grote Kerk of Vianen and the Eusebiuskerk in Arnhem. The shown corpses (a skeleton or decaying dead body) lays on a woven mat just like the skeleton above the cemetery gate. Hendrick de Keyser also portrayed the late Willem van Oranje on a similar surface, it might have been a common form of hygiene.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life and Death Contrasted (ca.1770), The Public Domain Review

From one of my very favorite websites, The Public Domain Review via The Wellcome Library:
A striking image from the British engraver and publisher Valentine Green, illustrating the idea that life, with all its frivolity and distractions (symbolized by the romance novel, parlor games, and high society lady in all her finery) is in fact – echoing the sentiment of Ecclesiastes (quoted on the obelisk) – nothing but “vanity”, all lives as they do inevitably ending in death. The subtitle – “an essay on woman” – does, however, raise the question of whether Green is making a further comment on womanhood itself...
To read the full story--and see an additional image--click here.

The Voice that Inspired a Nation: The Dentures of Sir William Churchill (1874-1965) : Guest Post by Kristin Hussey, Hunterian Museum, London

Kristin Hussey--Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons with responsibility for the Odontological Collection--has kindly agreed to write a series of guest posts for Morbid Anatomy about some of the most curious objects in her collection.

The sixth post from that series follows; you can view all posts in this series by clicking here.
His widely broadcast speeches have become synonymous with the Second World War. But how differently would we remember his famous words if they had been said without Sir Winston Churchill’s infamous lisp?
Churchill was born in 1874, and by the turn of the century was already making a name for himself as a successful military man and politician. In 1900 he was elected to Parliament for Oldham and by 1911 was the First Lord of the Admiralty. In the time before sound recordings were widely available, journalists were quick to point out Churchill’s notable speech impediment, often described as a stutter. His natural lisp became one of his most distinctive features as a speaker which was amplified as radio broadcasts became more prevalent.
When it came to having dentures made for the great man, Churchill entrusted the dental technician Derek Cudlipp to make and repair several sets. Most dentures are made so the metal plate adheres closely to the palate- a feature which would have helped to reduce lisping. However, as Churchill famously said, ‘My impediment is no hindrance.’ Well aware of the power of his recognizable voice, Churchill consulted his dentist Wilfred Fish to come up with a solution. Cudlipp and Fish worked to craft dentures which would leave a gap between the plate and the roof of the mouth, thus retaining Churchill’s distinctive speaking style.
These dentures, worn by Churchill around 1941, have a gold base with platinum clasps and mineral teeth. While this set appears to be in good condition, Churchill reportedly threw his dentures at his staff when frustrated or angry. 
  1. Winston Churchill in Downing Street, June 1943. Wikicommons via the Imperial War Museum.
  2. Skeletal partial upper denture, with gold base, platinum clasps and mineral teeth, made for and worn by Winston Churchill, c. 1941. RCSOM/K 20.9. Copyright the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Edward Gorey Documentary Needs Your Help : A Plea From Morbid Anatomy Provocateur in Residence Mark Dery

Mark Dery--Morbid Anatomy Provocateur in Residence and author of a forthcoming biography of Edward Gorey--has brought to our attention a Kickstarter project beyond worthy of our support, namely a new documentary on that inimitable artist/writer/eccentric Edward Gorey. Below is a characteristically brilliant guest post by Mr. Dery about the project, which you can support by clicking here, and learn more about in the Kickstarter video above. Also: word is that The Morbid Anatomy Museum might well be hosting a special screening for the film when completed, so stay tuned for more on that as it develops! And, if you love Edward Gorey as we do, please consider supporting this important and excellent project!
He shrank from the word “macabre,” routinely applied to his art and writing, yet the first novels he read, after teaching himself to read at the age of three, were of course Frankenstein and Dracula. He kept a mummy’s head in his New York apartment, the accidental discovery of which, while he was out, resulted in him being called down to the police station for a gentlemanly colloquy on suspicion of murder. He wrote stories about the infanticidal Moors Murderers and little innocents sacrificed to Insect Gods. He penned a deadpan parody of Edwardian pornography in which Gerald, infamously, “did a terrible thing to Elsie with a saucepan.” He was an ardent collector of post-mortem daguerreotypes—specifically, Victorian photos of dead babies, which he pressed a reluctant friend into procuring, surreptitiously, at postcard shows, back when such tastes were outré. An imperishable aesthete, he loved the proto-Surrealist melodramas of the silent-movie director Feuillade and the waspish wit of the screamingly gay Victorian novelist Ronald Firbank, yet was also an unapologetic fan of straight-to-video horror movies like Suture and insisted with a perfectly straight face that William Shatner was one of the great thespians of our age. Though endlessly tolerant of the black-clad fans who loitered palely on his doorstep, he is undoubtedly shoulder-rolling in his grave at his reputation, in some quarters, as the genial, bearded Granddaddy of the Goths—or would be, if he were buried, which he isn’t, having been cremated and scattered on Cape Cod, though he does have a disappointingly perfunctory grave marker—no urns, weeping willows, or lachrymose angels—in the family plot in Ohio, of all unimaginably perverse places.
He is, of course, Edward Gorey, legendary eccentric and the author and illustrator of such poisonous little morsels of black-comic camp as The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Pious Infant.
And he needs your help.
Christopher Seufert, a Cape Cod-based photographer and documentary filmmaker who is sitting on top of an incredible trove of rare, never-before-seen video footage of the reclusive, brilliant Gorey, has launched a Kickstarter bid for his Edward Gorey Documentary Project, here:
Seufert’s interviews with Gorey, and his cinema-verite footage of Gorey being Gorey, are fabulous stuff, but you, along with other, far less deserving souls, will never see them if Seufert doesn’t make his modest funding goal, which is why I’m fervently hoping you’ll consider making a rattling sound in his Kickstarter cup.
In the course of interviewing Seufert for the Gorey biography I’m writing for Little, Brown, I’ve gotten a glimpse of Seufert’s Gorey archives, and can say with unfeigned enthusiasm that they constitute a cabinet of droll, delightful curiosities: Gorey herding his many cats (and conversing with them all the while) around a house overstuffed with finials and sugar skulls and teetering heaps of books; Gorey rehearsing puppet plays with his troupe the Theatricule Stoique; Gorey eating at and holding forth at the local cafe where he breakfasted and lunched every day; Gorey musing, idly, about the myriad subjects his restless, polymathic mind ranged over, from the grade-Z horror films he loved to Victorian nonsense verse to his own, utterly sui generis art.
If you are a person who has ever had a fantod stuffed and preserved under glass, or who owns a well-thumbed copy of the eleventh volume of The Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs, or who applauded when the infant’s trajectory passed him over the rectory/ and into a lily-choked pond, please consider donating to the Edward Gorey Documentary Project. Time flies! Think of the children. Specifically, of Fanny, sucked dry by a leech. And Titus, who flew into bits. And my personal favorite, Neville, who died of ennui. Like you, it has always been my life’s dream to die of ennui, but not before the Edward Gorey Documentary is fully funded. “Remember the widows and orphans,” as Edward admonished, in the little sign he drew for the Yarmouth Port café he frequented.
Morbidly, Mark Dery
(Fellow devotee of the Morbid Anatomy Museum and author of the forthcoming Doubtful Guest: The Mysterious Mind and Legendary Life of Edward Gorey)
Image via Flavorwire.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Death's Heads and Tomb Markers of Amsterdam and Leiden

While in the Netherlands last week for the Amsterdam Anatomy Weekend at the Museum Vrolik, I had the time to take in a three wonderful churches: de Nieuwe Kerk ("new church") and de Oude Kerk ("old church") in Amsterdam and, in Leiden, Pieterskerk (or "Pilgrim Fathers' Church"), thanks very much to Bart Grob and his magnificent Museum Boerhaave bicycle.

All of the churches were, on their own, wonderfully captivating spaces, lofty and sober and aglow with that very special Dutch light; they were also, to my delight, filled with dozens of fascinating tomb markers, many of them engraved with fanciful death's heads and other enigmatic images. You can see a few of my favorite examples above, and can view a more complete photoset by clicking here.

The Body Anatomized: New Studio Art and Art History Class with School of Visual Art's Jonathon Rosen, Beginning June 2

We at Morbid Anatomy are beyond delighted to be offering "The Body Anatomized," a new hybrid studio art and art history class with Jonathon Rosen of the School of Visual Art. Over eight sessions, our instructor Jonathon Rosen will present illustrated lectures covering the rich and storied history of anatomical visualization, covering everything from Catholic relics to the "flayed angels" of Jacques Fabien Gautier d'Agoty (top image); Italian wax Anatomical Venuses to the diagrammatic illustrations of Christian Wilhelm Braune (middle image); Clive Barker’s Faust to the man machine of Fritz Kahn (bottom image). Under Jonathon's ongoing critical feedback and guidance, students will generate finished artworks in the medium of their choice incorporating medicine or anatomy as a point of departure, be it personal or political, didactic or obscure.

The course runs over 8 Mondays from June 2nd to July 21st. The class is limited to only 20 people. Full details follow, and tickets can be purchased here. Hope very much to see you there!
The Body Anatomized: Art Studio and History Class with SVA's Jonathon Rosen
Dates: Mondays June 2 to July 21 (8 sessions)
Admission: $300 (Must purchase ticket here)
Time: 7-10pm
Class limited to 20 people
Morbid Anatomy Museum (New Space) , 424A 3rd Avenue (Corner of 7th Street and 3rd Avenue)
This class is part of The Morbid Anatomy Art Academy
Temple of the soul or soft machine? The body is where human art, science, culture, politics and medicine all intersect. This hybrid lecture/studio course takes inspiration from artists ancient to post-modern who use medicine and anatomy as a point of departure for personal, political, religious or scientific commentary.
Over eight sessions, Jonathon Rosen will explore the influence of traditional medical imagery on contemporary art-making and pop culture through the lens of history, culture and aesthetics. Examples will range from medieval doctor’s sketchbooks and illuminated manuscripts, via Renaissance medical surrealism and 19th century medical devices, to contemporary works by Damien Hirst, John Isaacs, the virtual human project, BodyWorlds, and beyond. On the way we will also touch on aesthetic surgery, genetics, biomechanics, medical museums, anatomy in movies and French underground comics.
With Jonathon's ongoing critical feedback and guidance, students will generate finished artworks incorporating medicine or anatomy as a point of departure, be it personal or political, didactic or obscure. This work can be singular or narrative, 2D, 3D, static or moving, in any medium, and projects are not required to be anatomically correct (and please note: Jonathon will not be giving how-to instruction in traditional medical illustration). There will also be an ongoing in-class assignment, based around anatomizing pre-existing vintage images.

Class 1: Coming Attractions. A visual overview of the course as an introduction to the history of medical-art & imagery including an introduction to your instructor’s work. Discussion of class, homework and assignments.
Class 2: Sacred Anatomy and Materia Medica. The invention of scientific illustration: The earliest printed medical textbooks and the pioneers of human dissection. From early Islamic to late medieval European. Barbers, surgeons and wound men, demons, miraculous limb transplants, hybrid monsters and diagnosis by zodiac.
Class 3: The emergence of modernity and the culture of dissection in Renaissance culture. Vesalius, Leonardo Da Vinci, Realdo Colombo, Charles Estienne, Jacopo Berengario da Carpi.
Class 4: Medical Chic: Baroque to Enlightenment era. The Anatomy Theater, Albinus. The Altlas of Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery. Hogarth and satires of medicine. Spotlight on Jacques Fabien Gautier d'Agoty.
Class 5: 19th century; Optical devices, x-rays, prosthetics, automatons, pop-up books & anatomical manikins. Medical Museums, Mutter, Vrolik, La Specola & wax figuration. Etienne-Jules Marey and motion capture.
Class 6: 20th century; Medical Industrial Complex: Fritz Khan and mechanical/ metaphorical bodies. Vintage Educational anatomy & health films: How the eyes and ears work. Illustrations by Netter. Vintage Chinese medical posters.
Class 7: Fantastic Voyage: Clive Barker’s Faust, Stan Brakhage’s the act of seeing with one’s own eyes. Body Worlds. New imaging: virtual cadavers, prosthetics, braces, body scanning, genetics, medical animation. Growing body parts and sensor-driven prosthetics. New Artists including; Marseille collective Le Dernier Cri’s Hopital Brut, Damien Hurst, John Isaacs.
Class 8
: Final project due / critique.
Jonathon Rosen is a NY-based artist and animator who teaches at the School of Visual Arts. He has worked with Jean Michel Basquiat and Tim Burton (the journal drawings, Sleepy Hollow), and made artwork for ID Magazine, Popular Science, Oxford Review, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Discover Magazine, RCA Records, Rolling Stone, MTV, the New York Times Science Times and Sunday Magazine, and many more. His work has been shown at PS.1, and is in the collections of David Cronenberg and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  1. Gautier D'Agoty; Anatomy of a Woman's Spine via here.
  2. Christian Wilhelm Braune, via Ars Anatomica
  3. Fritz Kahn via here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Morbid Anatomy at Philadelphia's Wagner Free Institute: Outsider Perspectives with Guest Curators Joanna Ebenstein and Evan Michelson

For those in the greater Philadelphia area: next Thursday, May 22, Joanna Ebenstein (founder of Morbid Anatomy) and Evan Michelson (Morbid Anatomy Library Scholar in Residence and Co-Star of Science Channel's "Oddities") will be presenting illustrated talks as "guest curators" at one of our very favorite gems of untouched Natural History: The Wagner Free Institute!

The lecture is free (!!!) and will take place in the Wagner's time-travelingly incredible 19th century lecture theatre complete with dusty specimens, magic lantern projector, and antique wooden chairs. The talks will be followed by a wine reception in the museum for only $10 You can order tickets by clicking here.

What, I respectfully ask, could be better than wine among the specimens?

Hope very much to see you there!
Illustrated lecture with Morbid Anatomy's Joanna Ebenstein and Oddities' Evan Michelson
Date: Thursday, May 22
Time: 6:00 - 7:00 PM (Free!)
Annual Member Reception 7:00 - 8:00 PM ($10)
Tickets: Register here for this lecture  and the Reception
*** Offsite at The Wagner Free Institute, 1700 W Montgomery Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19121
Tonight, please join Morbid Anatomy for a special night at one of our favorite museums of all time--The Wagner Free Institute in Philadelphia! For this event, Joanna Ebenstein (Morbid Anatomy founder) and Evan Michelson (Science Channel's "Oddities") have been invited to be guest curators, and, as such, will each give a short, illustrated talk on a few of their favorite artifacts in the Wagner's untouched 19th century collection. Best of all, the talk will take place in one of our favorite spaces ever: the Wagner's time-travelingly incredible 19th century lecture theatre complete with dusty specimens, magic lantern projector, and antique wooden chairs.
Following the presentation, the Wagner's Annual Member Reception will take place upstairs in the museum with finger food, drinks, and a chance to view highlighted specimens. The Member Reception is only one of the great benefits of becoming a friend of the Institute. Guests of members may attend the reception for $10. Learn more about our great membership perks and how to join by clicking here.
Photo of specimens at The Wagner Free Institute by Joanna Ebenstein

Call for Papers: Bodies Beyond Borders: The Circulation of Anatomical Knowledge, 1750-1950, January 7-9 2015

This call for papers just in from my new friend Pieter Huistra, one of the many international attendees I had the pleasure to meet at last weekend's phenomenal Amsterdam Anatomy Weekend at the Museum Vrolik.

The conference will take place in Leuven, Belgium from January 7-9, 2015 with confirmed speakers including Sam Alberti, Sven Dupré, Rina Knoeff, Helen MacDonald, Anna Maerker, Chloé Pirson, Natasha Ruiz-Gómez and Michael Sappol.

The call for papers follow; abstracts of 300 words must be submitted by June 1, 2014 to pieter.huistra [at] You can find out more here.

Bodies Beyond Borders. The Circulation of Anatomical Knowledge, 1750-1950
Leuven, 7-9 January 2015

Bodies Beyond Borders is a scholarly conference on the circulation of anatomical knowledge that indicates the heighted interest in the history of anatomy in Leuven. This conference fits in with two current projects on the history of anatomy in Leuven. The first is a research project on Anatomy, scientific authority and the visualized body in medicine and culture (Belgium, 1780-1930), that is conducted in our research group, Cultural History since 1750. The project is supervised by Kaat Wils, and co-supervised by Raf de Bont, Jo Tollebeek and Geert Vanpaemel, and has two PhD fellows, Tinne Claes and Veronique Deblon and one postdoctoral fellow, Pieter Huistra. This research project takes as its object the history of anatomy in Belgium in the ‘long nineteenth century’.

Secondly, Leuven will celebrate a Vesalius year in 2014-2015, to commemorate the 500th birthday of Andreas Vesalius. The mainstay of the programme will be the exhibition Unravelling the body. The theatre of anatomy, of which Geert Vanpaemel will serve as curator. This exhibition studies Vesalius himself, but also his work influenced representations of the human body and the tradition of anatomical research. These themes will also be included in Bodies Beyond Borders, our conference that takes up the question: how does anatomical knowledge move from site to another? Whereas our research project focuses specifically on Belgium, the conference will have a broad geographical scope in its topics as well as its speakers.

Call for Papers

How does anatomical knowledge move from one site to another? Between 1750 and 1950 the study of anatomy underwent great changes, as a part of the development of scientific medicine, through public anatomies, as well as in the interplay between the two. How did these changes spread geographically? How did knowledge about newly discovered lesions travel from one hospital to another? What was the role of anatomical models in the spread of the public consciousness of syphilis, for example? Was the spread of this knowledge hindered by national borders, or did anatomical knowledge cross those borders easily? These questions are concerned with what James Secord terms ‘knowledge in transit’. To seek an answer to these questions, a conference focusing on the circulation of anatomical knowledge between 1750 and 1950 will be organized in Leuven from 7-9 January 2015. Confirmed speakers are Sam Alberti, Sven Dupré, Rina Knoeff, Helen MacDonald, Anna Maerker, Chloé Pirson, Natasha Ruiz-Gómez and Michael Sappol.

Knowledge does not move by itself – it has to be carried. To better understand how anatomical knowledge moves from place to place, we will seek to trace the trajectories of its bearers. Some of those bearers were tied very specifically to the discipline of anatomy: wax models, preserved bodies (or parts of them) or anatomical atlases, for example. These objects are polysemic in nature, tending to have different meanings in different contexts and for different audiences. It makes the question of how anatomical knowledge travelled all the more pertinent if, for example, wax models that went from a Florentine museum to a Viennese medical training institution underwent a shift in meaning en route. But bearers of knowledge less specifically tied to anatomy were equally important: articles, books and individual persons to name but a few examples.

For our conference we welcome contributions regarding the geographical movement of anatomical knowledge between 1750 and 1950. We are equally interested in ‘scientific’ and ‘public’ anatomy – as well as in exchanges between the two domains. Therefore, we encourage contributions about bearers of anatomical knowledge as wide-ranging as persons (scientists, students, freaks), objects (models, preparations, bodies or body parts), visual representations (films, atlases, wall maps) and practices (dissections, travelling exhibitions), as well as their (transnational and intranational) trajectories.

Paper proposals must be submitted by 1 June 2014.

Please send a 300-word abstract to pieter.huistra[at]

Notification of acceptance: early July, 2014.
Image: Enrique Simonet, "Anatomía del corazón; ¡Y tenía corazón!; La autopsia," 19th Century

Anatomical Ex-Voto of Lungs from The Morbid Anatomy Library : Guest Report by Museum Studies Student Liza Young, St. John's University

Liza Young--a museum studies student at St. John's University--recently chose a Neapolitan tin votive, or ex-voto, residing in the Morbid Anatomy Library as the subject for a school research project. Her task: to take an artifact of her choosing and research its provenance, situate it historically, and write for it a museum-quaility object record. 

Below are her findings in truncated version; you can read a much more detailed report of her investigation by clicking here; you can find out more about Liza and her work by clicking here.
Anatomical Ex-Voto of Lungs from The Morbid Anatomy Library
Work Type: Italian Religious Visual Work
Title: Anatomical Votives of Lungs, or Ex-Voto
Creator: Unknown
Material: Tin
Dimensions: 3 ¾ x 4 ¼ inches 
Work Type: Italian Religious Visual Work
Creation Date: 1890-1960
Subject: Religion
Style: Catholic
Culture: Italian
Materials and Technique: Tin plate stamped with image of lungs

The artifact I have chosen for this project was discovered at a flea market in Italy by Joanna Ebenstein, the Creative Director of the Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum. This anatomical ex-voto, or votive, bears a stamped image of the ailing lungs of an unknown Catholic Italian. Anatomical ex-votos function as representations of body parts that are either in need of a saint’s blessing, or as an homage of thanks to a saint for a blessing given. The external parts of the body may be used more metaphorically. A leg may represent an injury or a request for safe travel. Eyes may create a connection between the living and the dead (not unlike darshan). Internal organs, on the other hand, tend to relate directly to a literal illness. Today they are used primarily in Greek Orthodox and Catholic practices, where they are known as tama (Greek) and milagros, dijes, or promesas (Spanish). The exact date of this object is unknown, though it is likely that it was created in the early half of the 20th century. This dating is derived in part by the presence of two golden orbs on the left lung, which indicates a specific understanding of where the individual’s disease was located, implying the existence of advanced medical practice.
Thanks so much, Liza, for this excellent report, and we hope to work with you again in the future!

Image: © The Morbid Anatomy Library

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Altar of the Souls in Purgatory, Basilica of Saints Justus and Pastor, Barcelona : Guest post by Kaiser Noir

Whilst in Barcelona recently, Kaiser Noir--historian, tour guide and co-organizer for the Barcelona Congress of Curious Peoples, and director of Kriminal Kabarett--took me on a special visit to the grim and fabulous Basilica of Saints Justus and Pastor. I asked Kaiser to write a brief post about the church and its entrancing shrine dedicated to the souls in purgatory; his text follows, and the above images are my own:
The most fascinating church in Barcelona, the Basilica of saints Justus and Pastor, has a long history related to martyrdom, funerary rites and the supernatural world. The temple is unique because its preservation is exceptional (surviving wars, looting and religious persecution) and it is perhaps the oldest Christian sanctuary in the city.

The pagan roots of this church are still discussed. Although archeological evidences are unclear, this might have been the place where the temple of Castor and Pollux, two Graeco-Roman divinized heroes, once stood. Their names were Christianized and changed, and they became the saints Justus and Pastor, two christian boys killed near Madrid in the times of the emperor Diocletian. The first Christians from "Barcino" (the name of Barcelona in the Roman times) also suffered these persecutions in the beginning of the IV century A.D. The most famous victim was saint Eulalia, patron of the city. The surroundings of the church were used as a cemetery for these martyrs, whose relics were greatly appreciated. This fact consecrated the place as one of the holiest in the city.
When the Germanic invaders, the Goths, conquered Spain, Barcelona became the court of the king Ataulf and the first version of this church was built. Since then, the temple enjoyed royal protection, only interrupted by the Muslim invasion, when it is said that the church was used as a mosque. Louis the Pious (son of Charlemagne) retook the city in the year 801 and confered an unusual privilege to this church: it was the sacramental testament. In the chapel of Saint Felix it was possible to declare and confirm the last will before dying, a tradition absolutely legal until 1991.

It is also said that the Virgin of Montserrat, protector of Catalonia (which some authors believe to be a Christian version of the goddess Isis) was saved here after it was discovered in the IX century A.D. For this reason, the architect Antoni Gaudi came here to pray everyday.

But the most astonishing and haunted chapel in this church (a building rebuilt in the XIV century in a majestic and splendorous Gothic style) is the altar of the Souls in the Purgatory. We can identify this masterpiece as a work from the last half of the XIX century, because some Neo-Gothic details were common in this date. The altar shows terrified human beings of all conditions burning and being punished for their sins in their afterlife. Only the pilgrims and the most devout visitors could save these souls from the flames of God and eternal damnation. Its extraordinary theatrical scenography evidences its Baroque conception and the origins of this ancient tradition from the Catholic countries. Maybe the aristocrats and the nobility, who lived in Renaissance and Rococo palaces in the neighborhood of the church, used this place as a memorial for the futility of their lives. This cult around the ideas of Purgatory and Hell were also present in other churches of Spain, the most spectacular case being the "Iglesia de las Animas" in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. Its neoclassical facade shows impressive and hellish scenes of punished souls. This church was part of a mystic itinerary, the "Stations of the Cross" in the last section of the Saint James way.
Definitively, the basilica of Saint Justus and Pastor is perhaps the most magnificent temple after the cathedral and there are still more stories to be discovered, as some tombstones made by the first masons and exquisite funerary inscriptions.
You can find out more about Kaiser Noir and his work by clicking here.