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Exquisite Bodies: Or a curious and grotesque history of the anatomical model

6 May 2009

A new and intriguing exhibition launching this summer in London will allow visitors to explore a strange and forgotten chapter in medical history. 'Exquisite Bodies' at Wellcome Collection will reveal how spectacular collections of anatomical models were used not only to teach but also to titillate the public in Victorian Britain and Europe.

During the 19th century, museums of anatomical models became popular attractions for Europeans seeking an unusual afternoon's entertainment. In London, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona the public could learn about the inner workings of the body through displays that combined serious science with an element of fairground horror.

The exhibition will enable visitors to reflect on what these models tell us about Victorian attitudes to anatomical knowledge and issues including sexual reproduction, contagious disease and death. A combination of the beautiful and the grotesque, the examples on show are derived from European collections and museums of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. They range from superbly accurate specimens designed for private use in teaching in anatomical theatres to models destined for often illiterate audiences in less salubrious parts of town, where displays highlighted the widespread fear of sexually transmitted diseases..

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'Exquisite Bodies': 30 July-18 October 2009
Press preview: Wednesday 29 July, 09.30-13.00
A chance to preview the exhibition and meet the curators. Contact Mike Findlay for details.
Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Admission FREE

Gallery opening times
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10.00-18.00
Thursday: 10.00-22.00
Sunday: 11.00-18.00
Closed Monday (except bank holidays: 10.00-18.00)

Kate Forde, Curator at Wellcome Collection, explains: "'Exquisite Bodies' brings together a superb variety of anatomical models, many of which will never have been seen in the UK before. Produced during an era of scientific rationalism, these strange surrogates seem on one hand to illustrate contemporary medicine's interest in empirical knowledge, but at the same time they reveal a range of complex beliefs about life, sex, disease and death."

By the early 1900s the popularity of these attractions was on the wane. In Britain their contents were labelled obscene and attacked by campaigners intending to expose 'quackery', while in continental Europe they endured for some time longer, often trading on their reputations as freak shows or 'monster parades'. By the eve of World War II many of the collections had been dispersed or destroyed, while some models survived in specialist museums, private collections or as 'end of the pier' entertainments.

'Exquisite Bodies' will feature approximately 50 objects from collections across the UK and Europe.

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Notes for editors

'Exquisite Bodies' events
Coinciding with 'Exquisite Bodies', a lively programme of events will run to discuss and enjoy the main themes surrounding the exhibition.

A full line-up of events will be announced at the beginning of June.

All events in Wellcome Collection are FREE but must be booked in advance.

For further information, see Wellcome Collection events or call 020 7611 2222.

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £ 600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

The Wellcome Trust's former headquarters, the Wellcome Building on London's Euston Road, has been redesigned by Hopkins Architects to become a new £ 30 million public venue. Free to all, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises three galleries, a public events space, the Wellcome Library, a café , a bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club.