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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Behind the fairground curtain

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 05 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3157
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

    An exhibition of anatomical models provides an intriguing insight into the story of these lifelike but lifeless representations that catered to public prurience as well as scientific interest, writes Wendy Moore

    It is no accident that anatomical theatres are so named. Anatomy has always enjoyed a close relationship with public spectacle, so that the boundary between serious scientific interest and prurient entertainment has often become blurred.

    Physician to the Roman empire, Claudius Galen was an irrepressible showman who performed vivisection tricks as a crowd pleaser in Rome’s marketplaces. Human dissections were regular public events in the 17th and 18th centuries; the diarist Samuel Pepys described a visit in 1663, followed by a “fine dinner.” And the public appetite for anatomy as drama continues to be fed by live television and travelling exhibitions—the most recent featuring two bodies eternally entwined in the act of sex.

    So the Wellcome Collection’s adults only exhibition Exquisite Bodies, which explores the overlapping roles of anatomical models in teaching medical students and titillating the masses, upholds a long tradition. Bringing together rare and remarkable models from collections across Europe, the exhibition …

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