La Specola: A Macabre Museum of Post-Mortem Wax People

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
June 12 2014 12:39 PM

La Specola: A Macabre Museum of Post-Mortem Wax People

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

These days, "wax museum" means Madame Tussauds. But in 18th-century Florence, wax museums displayed models of dissected dead people, designed to show medical students what lay beneath the skin of the human body.

The model-making process was labor-intensive and began with an artist pressing plaster against the individual organs of a recently dissected cadaver to create a cast. Wax was poured into the moulds and each organ painted and varnished. All the body parts were then assembled into a wax torso and overlaid with muscles and membranes, which were either painted or simulated with thread.

Advertisement

The works were so uncannily realistic—red, glistening muscles lying taut against knobby bones, encased in an intricate web of veins—that it was felt the artistry deserved a wider audience. In 1775 the figures were put on display at La Specola, a natural history and zoology museum established by the Medici family.

La Specola is still open. Among its most enthralling sights are the wax anatomical Venuses: naked women posed in demure but erotic poses, with their abdominal skin removed and rib cages pulled open to expose the organs underneath. These sensually splayed corpses were looked on with particular fondness by the Marquis de Sade when he visited La Specola in the late 18th century.


View La Specola in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.