In one chapter, Ebenstein describes her fascination with female wax models used in the 18th century to teach anatomy. It's a theme that runs throughout the Anthology. Even scientific studies of the human body are rarely just that.
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The images are, by turns, artistic, sentimental, superstitious, sexualized — and quite often macabre. To Ebenstein, they are also portals to another time, when something that now seems bizarre and disturbing was completely normal. If there's an overarching theme to the Anthology , she says, "It's the siren call of the past, this inescapable desire to understand what the past is about, and the utter impossibility of ever knowing.
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When Capuchin friars came to the outskirts of the Sicilian city in the 16th century, they buried their dead en masse near their church. Decades later, they discovered that the majority of these corpses had been naturally mummified.
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Eventually, they began actively mummifying the dead with lime and other chemicals, and by the end of the 17th century they constructed catacombs to display their handiwork, and visitors today can see them on display, dressed in their finest clothes and tucked into alcoves built into the walls. Attitudes towards death have shifted since these bodies were put on display, Michelson writes: "Something like this simply could not happen again.
Another macabre window on the past comes from a chapter on Victorian-era postmortem photography of children by the cultural critic Mark Dery. These photos of carefully dressed and posed children are still poignant today, and the fading daguerrotypes, tintypes and other primitive photographic prints make them even more haunting. Death is never far away as you turn the pages of the Anthology , and Ebenstein says we'd be better off confronting it than ignoring it. She hopes the Anthology and the soon-to-be expanded Morbid Anatomy Museum will help change that. Donating also happens to be the cheapest way to snag a copy of the Anthology.
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A 19th century post-mortem photograph of a young girl. An 18th century wax anatomical model with removable organs. A wax model of the dissected head of a baby, with the brain exposed. An 18th century drawing by the Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch. My Bag Items. View All Back to School.
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