Lost Wax

In this month's Lancet, there's an interesting article by Richard Barnett (Wellcome Institute), "Lost Wax: Medicine and Spectacle in the Enlightenment." The Lancet 2008; 372:366-367

Abstract: The mid-18th century, anyone walking along London's Fleet Street towards Temple Bar—a ceremonial gateway marking the boundary between the City of London and Westminster—would have passed Benjamin Rackstrow's Museum of Anatomy and Curiosities. Rackstrow specialised in wax models of the human reproductive system, and visitors to his museum were shown case after case of distended wombs, syphilitic genitalia, and a selection of preserved and bottled fetuses. But his pièce de résistance was a wax sculpture of a pregnant woman, partially dissected, with claret running through glass tubes representing the circulation of her blood. Rackstrow's lucrative enterprise points to an overlooked strand in the history of medicine, one which lies on the uneasy boundary between medicine and spectacle, education and titillation.

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