Joanna Ebenstein, people…pay attention.
My very favorite figure operating at the intersections of art and medicine–and probably the most bizarre to the modern eye–is Dutch anatomist, artist, preparator, and early museologist Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731). A pioneer in the art of preserving the human body, he was famed for his uncannily life-like and imaginative human preparations (i.e. bits of bodies preserved for study) which he achieved through a combination of injections of colored wax and a secret alcohol-based preservation formula. He is best remembered today for his lavish memento mori-themed tableaux utilizing real human fetal skeletons and other bits of human remains (see images 15-18) which are beautifully explained by Steven Jay Gould in his book Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors:
Ruysch made about a dozen tableaux, constructed of human fetal skeletons with backgrounds of other body parts, on allegorical themes of death and the transiency of life… Ruysch built the ‘geological’ landscapes of these…
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