Remembrance of Things Past

Coffeetable Books




December 17, 1999:

Encyclopaedia Anatomica

Museo La Specola Florence

Taschen, 704 pp., $29.99 (paper)

Though most of the anatomical wax figures housed in the La Specola Museum in Florence and now collected in the Encyclopaedia Anatomica were crafted in the 18th century, their accuracy and beauty in depicting every tint of the liver, every curve of a bone in the human body, are at once shocking and chillingly exact. The La Specola collections were originally started by the Medici family, and the ideals and classicism of an extremely distant Europe are visible even in these models of unadorned physicality. One specimen depicting an open chest that exhibits the vagus nerve, heart, and lungs is attached to the stunning head of a matriarch with a look of pride over her closed eyes. Another model of a pregnant woman could easily pass for the Virgin Mary. Though the images often seem to come from some gory med-school textbook, the Encyclopaedia Anatomica is nothing short of poetry.


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