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Anatomy of desire: part 1

It is not uncommon to find anatomical wax works and vanitas depicting women that are sexualised. This is less unnerving when we look at mannequins like  this Victorian 1900 wax boudoir mannequin bust from France. It was made with real glass blown eyes and porcelain teeth. The long blond hair is human and implanted, as are the eyelashes and eyebrows. However, the “Anatomical Venuses” those life-sized wax anatomical models of idealized women made on the 1700s are both seductive and horrifying, arguably more horrifying because they are seductively posed and coloured.

The artist Zoe Leonard’s Anatomical Model of a Woman’s Head Crying, 1993 is one of a series of works made as she tries to capture the desire and horror expressed in these works.
“I first saw a picture of the anatomical wax model of a woman with pearls in a guidebook on Vienna. She struck a chord in me. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She seemed to contain all I wanted to say at that moment, about feeling gutted, displayed. Caught as an object of desire and horror at the same time. She also seemed relevant to me in terms of medical history, a gaping example of sexism in medicine. The perversity of those pearls, that long blond hair. I went on with this work even though it is gory and depressing because the images seem to reveal so much.”–Zoe Leonard, Journal of Contemporary Art”

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