Weird History

These Grotesque 18th Century Wax Models Were Made From Real Cadavers

These 18th-century wax anatomical figures are both gruesome and eerily attractive. Alluring women recline with their organs on display, twirling hair through their fingers, while skeletons strike poses on tables and painted-on blood drips from wax heads. Just like how real remains are used in modern Body Worlds exhibits, 18th-century artists based their stunningly realistic wax models on actual deceased people.

The lifelike wax models helped educate medical students in a time when it was difficult to access real cadavers for them to dissect and study. Just like the 16th-century trend of staging dissections in massive theaters so that hundreds could watch, wax anatomical models exposed the secrets of the human anatomy to a large audience. The Medici family museum, La Specola, opened in Florence in 1775 and made it so that anyone could gawk at the models—including the Marquis de Sade.

The actual cadavers used to make anatomical models include a teenage girl who passed in 1782 while she was five months pregnant. Today, her wax reproduction is in a museum in Bologna, wearing pearls and resting peacefully with her organs on display and preserved for eternity.