19th century anatomical model

by Kate C
Publish date
15 February 2012
Comments (4)

A long-time resident of Melbourne Museum's Mind and Body Gallery has retired from display to be replaced by an equally lovely, but more feminine, colleague. These two extraordinary 19th century anatomical models belong to the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney. Made from papier-mâché at the factory of Dr Louis Thomas Jerôme Auzoux, they were important teaching aids for budding anatomists at the university.

Male and female anatomical models Left: Male Auzoux anatomical model as he appeared in the Mind and Body Gallery. Right: Female Auzoux anatomical model before she was installed in the gallery in January.
Source: Museum Victoria

Dr Auzoux (1797–1880) was a French anatomist who, frustrated at the limited usefulness of genuine cadavers and wax models for learning about the human body, began producing papier-mâché models of humans, animals, organs and plants. Where a human cadaver could only be dissected once and wax models deteriorated from use, papier-mâché was durable, lightweight and could be used over and over again. His models were very popular and continued production after his death. The arrival of plastic in the 20th century superseded papier-mâché as a material, but for decades his models were unsurpassed.

They were formed in lead moulds under high pressure from a mix of papier-mâché, clay and cork. The surface was covered with veins made from linen-covered wire and then hand-painted, varnished and labelled. The handwork means that each model - and there are examples in museums worldwide – has a distinctive character and unique appearance.

Nurin Veis is the curator responsible for the Mind and Body Gallery exhibitions. "We've included a variety of multidisciplinary ways of looking at science and medicine," she explains. "This model is a great example where art meets science which is a rich area that many people are interested in. I think she's beautiful. All that work – each model is individually crafted, not like the plastic anatomical models that are churned out."

female anatomical model in crate The new arrival peering out from the custom-made travel crate that carried her from Sydney to Melbourne.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Nurin Veis with arm of anatomical model Dr Nurin Veis looking at the arm of the female anatomical model.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

The first thing you'll notice is that she is unusually proportioned with a small head and very broad hips. This remains an inexplicable curiosity; female Auzoux models are extremely rare and there aren't many to compare her with.

Nurin is fascinated by the model's odd shape and stance. "It's what they have and haven't fleshed out – her head is so small but they've made such a big issue of her hips. I can't help thinking that the external form was possibly done from sketches. It doesn't look like it's been modelled from life. The discrete way that she's trying to hide her body and all the things that it says about gender roles is very interesting."

The female model's torso opens up to reveal her internal organs but unfortunately there was not room in the showcase to permit this for display. Before she was installed, we took photographs of her insides. She is in wonderful condition for her age but for one thing: she does not have a heart. No one knows if her heart was lost, stolen or strayed; the Macleay Museum has no record of her ever having one.

conservator with anatomical model Conservator Helen Privett opening the female anatomical model's torso to reveal her heartless core.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria


The Human Body exhibition

Macleay Museum at Sydney University

Lack of human cadavers? Turn to papier-mâché medicine (New Scientist blog)

The papier-mache anatomist (Curious Expeditions)

Comments (4)

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Lucy 17 February, 2012 09:03
I absolutely love this story! The beautiful photos have prompted me to go and check her out asap. And how fascinating that she has no heart... Her shape looks similar to the way women were depicted in old paintings- often said to be anatomically impossible! Thanks for sharing
TG 21 February, 2012 14:36
It's great to see these models still around. I also enjoyed the Luigi Cattaneo Anatomical Wax Museum at Bologna University in Italy. That was an educating, if somewhat slightly disturbing, experience. Probably not the most PC museum, but worth a look for the detail of the wax models. There's a lot of information around about the museum if you search for it.
Jude Philp 7 December, 2012 11:47
Anyone missing the male model? Or just want to see more of the Macleay's amazing collection of models? visit our exhibition TRUE TO FORM from 25 March - 9 August 2013, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.
peterwilson 13 May, 2014 18:02
I came accross a very interesting website with more info on this product: http://www.medicalexpo.com/medical-manufacturer/anatomical-model-1427.html
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