CULTURAL STUDIES

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Hardcover, 6.75 x 9.5 in. / 224 pgs / 250 color.

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Catalog: SPRING 2016 p. 45   

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The Anatomical Venus

Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

By Joanna Ebenstein.

Featured image is reproduced from <I>The Anatomical Venus</I>.

The uncanny allure of historical medical models

Of all the artifacts from the history of medicine, the Anatomical Venus—with its heady mixture of beauty, eroticism and death—is the most seductive. These life-sized dissectible wax women reclining on moth-eaten velvet cushions—with glass eyes, strings of pearls, and golden tiaras crowning their real human hair—were created in eighteenth-century Florence as the centerpiece of the first truly public science museum. Conceived as a means to teach human anatomy, the Venus also tacitly communicated the relationship between the human body and a divinely created cosmos; between art and science, nature and mankind. Today, she both intrigues and confounds, troubling our neat categorical divides between life and death, body and soul, effigy and pedagogy, entertainment and education, kitsch and art. The first book of its kind, The Anatomical Venus, by Morbid Anatomy Museum cofounder Joanna Ebenstein, features over 250 images—many never before published—gathered by its author from around the world. Its extensively researched text explores the Anatomical Venus within her historical and cultural context in order to reveal the shifting attitudes toward death and the body that today render such spectacles strange. It reflects on connections between death and wax, the tradition of life-sized simulacra and preserved beautiful women, the phenomenon of women in glass boxes in fairground displays, and ideas of the ecstatic, the sublime and the uncanny.
Joanna Ebenstein is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, writer, lecturer and graphic designer. She originated the Morbid Anatomy blog and website, and is cofounder (with Tracy Hurley Martin) and creative director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York. She is coauthor of Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy, with Dr. Pat Morris; coeditor of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology, with Colin Dickey; and acted as curatorial consultant to Wellcome Collection’s Exquisite Bodies exhibition in 2009. She has also worked with such institutions as the New York Academy of Medicine, the Dittrick Museum and the Vrolik Museum.

Featured image is reproduced from The Anatomical Venus.

PRAISE AND REVIEWS

Publishers Weekly

In this exquisitely illustrated study, artist Ebenstein, founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, finds her peculiar subject at the intersection of science and art in 18th-century Florence. The original Anatomical Venus is a life-size, dissectible female figure, meticulously sculpted from delicately pigmented wax by artist Clemente Susini for Florence’s Natural History Museum. The Venus and her subsequent wax sisters were created with the aim of teaching anatomy to a popular audience. The placid faces of these figures are framed by human hair, and they are often bedecked with necklaces and silk bows. They recline languorously on satin cushions. Various sections of these Slashed Beauties, as they came to be called, can be removed to show the organs and the muscles beneath the skin. Created in Europe at a time when public executions and dissections were forms of entertainment and the Paris morgue was considered a major tourist attraction, these wax creations were not perceived as disturbing to viewers. This book raises intriguing questions about science, religion, philosophy, beauty, sex, desire, and art while tracing the influence of these macabre sculptures through the centuries. Ebenstein touches on fetishism, necrophilia, dancing dolls, sex toys, and even “Resusci Anne,” the doll created in the 1960 to teach CPR. The subject is explored just as astutely visually, with images that evoke a range of emotions, including horror, awe, and, most of all, deep interest.

Mental Floss

Bess Lovejoy

1 of 25 Amazing New Books for Spring.

The Telegraph

Gaby Wood

Wonderful and epically illustrated book.

The Guardian

Zoe Williams

The Anatomical Venus is literally uncanny, by Freud’s definition, “everything that was meant to remain secret and hidden has come into the open”.

Vice.com

Lauren Oyler

What Ebenstein argues is beguiling to our contemporary brains is that the figures weren't strictly medical, but beautiful as well.

Milk

Bria Smith

Simply put, a relic of another time.

Salon

Kim Kelly

In her new book, The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death, & The Ecstatic, Morbid Anatomy Museum co-founder Joanna Ebenstein digs deep into the fascinating story behind this beautiful oddity, and lays it all bare in tight, engaging prose that spans centuries and takes us from the artisan workshops and cathedrals of 18th century Italy into the dusty dime museums of turn-of-the-century New York and deep into the uncanny valley inhabited by sex dolls and surrealism in search of an answer: Who was the Anatomical Venus?

Vice Magazine

Lauren Oyler

Today, it is tempting to see the Anatomical Venus as a tragic victim, a disturbing symbol of men's desire to possess a passive woman. But The Anatomical Venus also offers convincing reasons to see the startling Sleeping Beauty, lovely even with her entrails showing, as something much more significant. 'Perhaps the draw of the Anatomical Venus comes from an unspoken, intuited resolution of our own divided nature,' Ebenstein writes, 'an unconscious recognition of another avenue abandoned, in which beauty and science, religion and medicine, soul and body might be one.'

Bust Magazine

Courtney Bissonette

Hey barbie, take a backseat in that pink convertible of yours! Anatomically correct female wax figures were the O.G. of dolls in the 18th century. If you were a kid in the 1700s, you'll remember these awesome dolls from your childhood. Because most of us weren't... Morbid Anatomy museum co-founder Joanna Ebenstein has put together a book of haunting photos of these dissectible dolls.

Publisher's Weekly

The Strangest Book of 2016...seductive and confounding.

Huffington Post

Priscilla Frank

…enchanting and repulsive book.

Tatler

Sebastian Shakespeare

This fabulous book by the co-founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum features over 250 images of seductive yet disquieting waxworks - many never before published: golden tiaras crowning real hair, glass eyes with real eyelashes. A mesmerizing marriage of art and science.

Lenny Letter

Dianca London

From beginning to end, the beauty of this book and the brilliance of its author will leave you in awe.

Blumhouse

Gregory Burkart

The elaborate and beautiful volume, entitled 'The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death and the Ecstatic' compiles 250 images of these Venus figures - some extremely rare - collected by the author from around the world.

The Victorian Web

Diane Josefowicz

The waxworks are spectacularly photographed, in rich color, from intimate angles. One is rarely so privileged to peer so closely into the interior reaches of the body. The photographs capture the astonishing beauty of these objects along with their equally astonishing capacity to horrify.

THE Magazine

Alicia Inez Guzmán

The embodiment of the uncanny, the Anatomical Venus thus exists somewhere between the aspirations of Enlightenment reality and the alcoves of human fantasy.

The Anatomical Venus

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FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 10/27/2016

Anatomical Venus Launch & Morbid Anatomy Symposia at La Luz de Jesus!

Anatomical Venus Launch & Morbid Anatomy Symposia at La Luz de Jesus!

Saturday and Sunday, October 29 – 30, in celebration of the Morbid Anatomy Museum's first California pop-up, La Luz de Jesus gallery presents an all day symposium on a series of macabre subjects, special tours and a book launch for The Anatomical Venus by Morbid Anatomy co-founder Joanna Ebenstein! Symposium speakers include Megan Rosenbloom of the Norris Medical Library of USC; Joanna Ebenstein, Tracy Hurley Martin and Tonya Hurley of the Morbid Anatomy Museum; Morbid Anatomy scholar in residence Elizabeth Harper; 'Gross America' author Richard Faulk, and many more!
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FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/4/2016

Anatomical Venus Symposium & Book Party at Morbid Anatomy Museum

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Saturday, June 4 from 11 AM - 7:15 PM, the Morbid Anatomy Museum presents a day-long symposium in celebration of Joanna Ebenstein's remarkable new study, The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic. Topics include anatomized women, wax, the ecstatic, Catholicism and the cult of the saints, the uncanny, and more. A book signing will follow at Halyards, with DJ stylings by Friese Undine and films curated by David Cory.
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FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/2/2016

Joanna Ebenstein to Launch 'Anatomical Venus' at the Strand

Joanna Ebenstein to Launch 'Anatomical Venus' at the Strand

JUNE 2, from 7-8PM, Strand Books presents the Morbid Anatomy Museum's Joanna Ebenstein in conversation with Evan Michelson—Morbid Anatomy Scholar in residence, co-owner of eerie East Village Obscura Antiques & Oddities and co-host of the Science Channel’s Oddities—in celebration of Ebenstein's fascinating new book, Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic, published by D.A.P.. Introduction by Morbid Anatomy Museum co-founder and board chair Tracy Hurley Martin.
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FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 2/14/2016

Morbid Valentine: 'The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic'

Morbid Valentine: 'The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic'

Today on the Morbid Anatomy Museum's website, founder and creative director Joanna Ebenstein announces the May, 2016 publication of her new study, The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic, a ravishing outlier on our list, alongside cult curiosities like The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (edited by Ebenstein) and our own best-selling staff favorite, The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration by Richard Barnett. Stay tuned for news about spring launch events, lectures, signings, exhibitions and more!
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CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 4/12/2016

The Anatomical Venus, a PW Top Pick!

The Anatomical Venus, a PW Top Pick!

Joanna Ebenstein's fascinating forthcoming study of life-sized dissectible female wax medical models, The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic, gets a glowing review from the bookseller's bible, Publisher's Weekly. Read the full text below and preorder here!
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The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

Publisher's Weekly calls it "the strangest book of 2016... seductive and confounding." Huffington Post calls it an "enchanting and repulsive book." Tatler calls it a "fabulous book… a mesmerizing marriage of art and science." And Lenny Letter writes, "from beginning to end, the beauty of this book and the brilliance of its author will leave you in awe." Joanna Ebenstein's lushly illustrated, elaborate and beautiful historical study of dissectible female wax dolls "digs deep into the fascinating story behind this beautiful oddity," as Kim Kelly writes in Salon, "and lays it all bare in tight, engaging prose that spans centuries and takes us from the artisan workshops and cathedrals of 18th century Italy into the dusty dime museums of turn-of-the-century New York and deep into the uncanny valley inhabited by sex dolls and surrealism in search of an answer: Who was the Anatomical Venus?" Pictured here: a life-sized, 40-piece Anatomical Venus from the collection of nineteenth-century self-styled doctor, Pierre Spitzner, in dissected state. You can't do better for Halloween reading. continue to blog


FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/4/2016

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic, Beach's illustration

"Ladies and Gentlemen: from birth until death the road is long. A creature’s arrival on the scene of life and its development before reaching its definitive form represent astonishing problems. Anatomical science consists of this: Seeking the secret of life in death! In the injured organ, seeking the cause of the disease in order to alleviate suffering. That is what a scientist does! For you the People, it’s another matter. For you, anatomy is a reality about which your mind requires knowledge. Anatomical waxworks will teach you to understand yourself physically. Thus you will be able to contemplate your strengths and your weaknesses. Pathology will produce in you salutary dread." This 1908 poster copy for the Grand Muséum d'Anatomie in Paris and 1851 midwifery illustration are reproduced from The Anatomical Venus, launching today at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. continue to blog


FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/3/2016

The Anatomical Venus

The Anatomical Venus, Medici Venus

"For men to be instructed," French medical illustrator Arnaud-Éloi Gautier d'Agoty wrote in the eighteenth century, "they must be seduced by aesthetics, but how can anyone render the image of death agreeable?" Anatomical Venus author and Morbid Anatomy Museum founder Joanna Ebenstein answers this question, alongside many even darker and deeper ones, in her fascinating new study of the history of wax anatomical "Slashed Beauties" from the eighteenth-century to today, launching tomorrow with an all-day symposium at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. Pictured here are details of two dissectible Venuses by Clemente Susini (1780-82). Ebenstein notes, "Female anatomical figures almost always have their skin intact, while male figures are more likely to be depicted flayed to their muscles." continue to blog


FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 12/13/2016

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

"Sleeping Beauty"—a breathing waxwork modeled by Dr. Philippe Curtis in Paris, 1767—is reproduced from The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic, Joanna Ebenstein's cult-favorite historical study of life-sized, reclining dissectible wax women (sometimes with fetus) originally produced to teach human anatomy in the eighteenth century. One of our Staff Favorite Stocking Stuffers of 2016, this is the book on our list that has captured the most media attention this season—called the "Strangest Book of 2016...seductive and confounding" by Publishers Weekly; "1 of 25 Amazing New Books" by Mental Floss; an "enchanting and repulsive book" by Huffington Post; and "beguiling" by Vice, to name just a few of its recent reviews. continue to blog


FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 5/19/2016

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic

"Venerina (Little Venus)"—a life-sized dissectible wax model created by the workshop of Clemente Susini at the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy, in 1782 for the Museo di Palazzo Poggi, Europe's first public scientific research facility and laboratory, in Bologna—is reproduced from Joanna Ebenstein's fascinating, highly-anticipated study, The Anatomical Venus, published by D.A.P. and releasing today! Read recent reviews in the current issue of VICE, and a recent issue of Publisher's Weekly, where the reviewer concludes, "This book raises intriguing questions about science, religion, philosophy, beauty, sex, desire and art while tracing the influence of these macabre sculptures through the centuries. Ebenstein touches on fetishism, necrophilia, dancing dolls, sex toys, and even 'Resusci Anne,' the doll created in the 1960s to teach CPR. The subject is explored just as astutely visually, with images that evoke a range of emotions, including horror, awe, and, most of all, deep interest." continue to blog


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