A Model Education

Copy of Copy of A Model Education (3)

In this latest blog, our Curator gives us an insight into what to expect from our upcoming temporary exhibition ‘A Model Education’

Our new exhibition, opening in the autumn of 2021, will explore the teaching of anatomy throughout the centuries. By examining the collections of six historic anatomical institutions across the UK, including our own, we build up a picture of how anatomy was taught. The exhibition will show examples of beautiful illustrations, anatomical waxes, plaster and papier-mâché models, unique wooden replicas, 20th century teaching aids and cutting edge 21st century innovation.

Right from the onset of cadaver based anatomical teaching, anatomists were restricted in the supply of bodies for teaching. This combined with the growing number of medical students meant that cadaver shortage would be a recurring problem throughout the centuries. To combat this shortage, medicine looked to artistic practices to aid the teaching of anatomy by creating visual aids and artificial anatomies.

One of the first anatomists to collaborate with artists for this purpose was Andreas Vesalius (1514 –1564). He was one of the first to study anatomy using human dissection and his studies led to the correction of many ancient misconceptions. He also set a new standard for the anatomical textbook by working together with artists to create his ground-breaking De humani corporis fabrica in 1543, which contained over 200 illustrations.

De humani corporis fabrica in 1543. Image courtesy of RCSEd Library and Archive

The early artistic depictions followed the traditional classical style which placed idealised bodies in stylised poses within landscape settings. This artistic approach could often lead to inaccuracy and the style gradually fell out of favour, The 18th Century ushered in a Naturalism style of dissection artwork, which depicted the reality of the dissection room. Additional developments in coloured print enabled the opportunity to present more detail and complexity. We will have on display many of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Library and Archive collection of rare books and surgical notebooks to demonstrate these beautiful developments.

Atlas of Anatomy and Surgery 1830-1854. Image courtesy of RCSEd Library and Archive

Whilst illustration could assist in preparing for and undertaking dissection, ensuring that students knew what they were looking at, it fell short in replicating multi-dimensional likeness. To tackle the restrictions of 2D illustrations, anatomists looked to create realistic artificial anatomies to assist in teaching. Wax was the first successful medium and offered realistic prosections which could be used to study key areas of anatomy . Beginning in Italy, wax modellers made beautifully artistic impressions of dissections. French and British modellers later in the 18th century created more realistic representations of cadavers. Joseph Towne was a British wax modeller who worked exclusively with Guy’s Hospital in London and made nearly eight hundred wax models in 53 years.

Image courtesy of the Gordon Museum of Pathology, King’s College London

The problem associated with wax were that the models were expensive to buy and could not be consistently handled. The physical manoeuvre of peeling back layers, discovering functions and feeling connections could not be achieved with fragile wax. It was to be largely replaced in the 19th century by papier-mâché and one company was to dominate this field, led by Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux (1797 – 1878). Auzoux made his first model in 1820 and by 1827 had set up a factory in Normandy to cope with the demand. Auzoux presented the models as a supplementary study to dissection. A way to allow students to repeatedly view and handle parts of anatomy to imbed this knowledge on the memory through repetition, which even preserved specimens could not offer.

Evidence of Auzoux models durability and popularity in anatomical teaching can be seen by the sheer number which have survived for nearly 200 years with repeated use in anatomical collections throughout the UK, some of which are displayed here. We are also privileged to show a unique papier-mâché model made by local Edinburgh surgical instrument makers Archibald Young, which is coming to us from the University of Edinburgh, Anatomical Museum and will be on display to the public for the first time. It is one of the few papier-mâché casts made in Britain by a known manufacturer.

Image courtesy of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science.

With several objects on public display for the first time, this is not one to miss. Join us September 2021 to experience this unique exhibition.

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