The Skeleton Trade: Life, Death, and Commerce in Early Modern Europe

Objects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition

Anita Guerrini, Horning Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Oregon State University, discusses the fascinating research which she presented atObjects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition.

Although the human skeleton was well known as a symbol before 1500, the articulated skeleton does not seem to have come into its own as an object – scientific and artistic as well as symbolic – until the time of Vesalius. Curiously ubiquitous, since everyone has one, but yet largely invisible, anatomists revealed the skeleton to view. The well-known illustrations of Vesalius were plagiarized over and over for two centuries after their publication in 1543.

Vesalius, "De humani corporis fabrica", 1543. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Vesalius, “De humani corporis fabrica”, 1543. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Vesalius was the first to give detailed instructions on how to make a skeleton, for although it was a natural object, it was also a crafted object whose construction entailed a lot of work…

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An Eighteenth-Century Sweeney Todd

2 January 2015 A human skeleton was an essential ornament to the early modern dissecting room. Beginning with Vesalius, a number of anatomical textbooks offered instructions for making an articulated skeleton from a dead body, and there was a flourishing clandestine industry in making skeletons and in stealing or otherwise procuring the necessary dead bodies …

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A Sonnet to an Anatomist

Montpellier surgeon Barthélémy Cabrol (1529-1603) first published his Alphabet anatomic in 1594. A series of tables that graphically represented the parts of the body, it was immensely popular, with eleven editions in the seventeenth century as well as translations into Latin and Dutch; the Dutch translation in 1633 was by Descartes’s friend and correspondent Vopiscus …

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The King’s Elephant

Last month, someone broke into the Paleontology wing of the Paris Museum of Natural History, and used a chain saw to cut off one of the tusks of the elephant skeleton there.  The skeleton dates from 1681 and is the oldest specimen at the museum.  Here is a little on the skeleton’s origins, from my …

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Cultures of anatomical collections

A few weeks ago, I attended the conference “Cultures of Anatomical Collections” in Leiden, the Netherlands.  I’m still thinking about and absorbing all the things I learned there.  It was the kind of conference where you are still up at midnight talking about things – in this case, dead bodies, anatomical waxes, anatomical preparations, anatomical …

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