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

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

The wax models helped educate medical students in a time when bodies for dissection were scarce. Just like the sixteenth-century trend of showing dissections in massive theaters so that hundreds could watch, wax anatomical models exposed the secrets of the human body 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 bodies used to make anatomical models include a teenage girl who died 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 forever.

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