The Zymoglyphic Museum
August 30, 2002 9:52 PM   Subscribe

The Zymoglyphic Museum including the works of Frederik Ruysch. 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.... One fetal skeleton holding a string of pearls in its hand proclaims, "Why should I long for the things of this world?" Another, playing a violin with a bow made of a dried artery, sings, "Ah fate, ah bitter fate."
Ruysch's work was eventually purchased by his student and admirer, Peter the Great.
posted by vacapinta (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"skulls bemoan their fate by weeping into "handkerchiefs" made of elegantly injected mesentery or brain meninges

How utterly macabre. This is fascinating! I adore the drawings. I had no idea about the Peter the Great connection; according to the link, he liked to collect "artistically prepared specimens of human fetuses". That's so very charming.

Ruysch has had a body part named after him - Ruysch's membrane, which is a thin layer of capillaries behind the retina. He'd like that, wouldn't he - it's suitably gruesome - eyeballs and membranes and blood and all that. Van Neck immortalized him (and yet another skeleton) in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Frederik Ruysch, a painting which has always made me feel queasy. I wonder what the reaction to it was back in the 1600s.

I'm off to explore the rest of the museum! Thank you for the continued quality of your links, vacapinta. Good stuff.
posted by iconomy at 11:40 PM on August 30, 2002

Thank you, iconomy.

Bonus link from zymoglyphic's creative taxidermy section: The work of Walter Potter (stuffed cute animals alert)
posted by vacapinta at 12:25 AM on August 31, 2002

I dunno. Past times didn't have the same "death is obscene" values that many of us have now. Think how popular the Danse Macarbre/Memento Mori woodcuts were.

I've been in quite a few Baroque churches in Germany, and I was struck by the exquisitely rendered skulls, bones and corpses woven into the decoration - reminders of your mortality in the face of the eternal.

It's hard to say, at this kind of distance, just how sick a puppy van Ruysch was.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:30 AM on August 31, 2002

Walter Potter? Ooh, yick. Cat loving Terry Pratchett fans will be interested to know there is a reference in The Thief of Time, which I only just got now. (In the museum, shortly after passing Man with large figleaf).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:34 AM on August 31, 2002

I had no idea that Joel-Peter Witkin had forerunners, though I certainly should have.

Great link.
posted by frykitty at 12:39 AM on August 31, 2002

Past times didn't have the same "death is obscene" values that many of us have now.

It seems that there have been alternating periods of relative enlightenment and suppression regarding touchy issues such as anatomical research and art. The UK's Channel 4 produced a wonderful documentary called "The Anatomists", that traces the history of anatomical study. Definitely make it a point to watch this if you ever get the chance.

Channel 4 also has an interesting site called The Anatomy of Disgust that explores the science and psychology of this most primal emotion, and how it relates to politics and art.
posted by taz at 1:18 AM on August 31, 2002

Excellent post as usual, vacapinta. I love the macabre in art and religion.

I've been in quite a few Baroque churches in Germany, and I was struck by the exquisitely rendered skulls, bones and corpses woven into the decoration

As have I. The most mindblowing example of the style that you refer to has to be the Asamkirche in Munich.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:16 AM on August 31, 2002

we did something similar in high school, but with fetal pigs :) why do human fetal skeletons look so alien-like? sort of reminds me of the virek collection in william gibson's count zero:
...Marly was lost in the box, in its evocation of impossible distances, of loss and yearning. It was somber, gentle, and somehow childlike. It contained seven objects.

The slender fluted bone, surely formed for flight, surely from the wing of some large bird. Three archaic circuit boards, faced with mazes of gold A smooth white sphere of baked clay. An age-blackened fragment of lace. A finger-length segment of what she assumed was bone from a human wrist, grayish white, inset smoothly with the silicon shaft of a small instrument that must once have ridden flush with the surface of the skin but the thing's face was seared and blackened.

The box was a universe, a poem, frozen on the boundaries of human experience.
or joseph cornell's boxes (courtesy of bulgy :) also, if i'm ever in cornwall, i'll be sure to visit mr potter's museum of curiosities! monkey riding goat!
posted by kliuless at 11:41 AM on August 31, 2002

More cool Euro-creepiness: The ossuary at Sedlec in the Czech Republic. If monstrous monstrances are your thing, this is the place.
posted by mediareport at 12:44 PM on August 31, 2002

mediareport: thanks, I remember that thread. Any way we can talk fidelity into posting another front-page post?

I was going to add that the influence of Ruysch remains in modern artists such as Jessica Joslin. I also see this in Annette Messager who uses stuffed animals in many of her works.

The artist Cristina Legato Orr, however, is for me one of the true heirs of this tradition. Her work is also creepy cool. She had a show here in San Francisco at Paxton Gate - a store that specializes in this mix of art and the organic.
posted by vacapinta at 1:05 PM on August 31, 2002

Aw, man. I can't help it; I love this sort of thing. When I went to college near Philly, I went to the Mutter Museum whenever I could. Their calendars have this kind of artwork, made temporarily with their specimens.
posted by Ahmose Nefertari at 10:01 PM on August 31, 2002

Elvissey, I thought, at first glance...

The first five books of Womack's (long "o" at first syllable) Dryco sextology have been published. Dryco, a monolithic U.S. multinational corporation owned by the Thatcher Dryden dynasty, controls major sectors of the global economy as well as the government and military. Throughout, Womack's dystopian sequence reveals a bizarre parable of America run amok, A Clockwork Orange set largely in a maniacally violent, decaying New York City of the twenty-first century. The reader encounters a subculture of biologically-deformed humans (Ambients), the messianic Church of Elvis, time travel to the 1939 New York World's Fair, fetal art (!), and the ubiquitous presence of Womackspeak: "Bookstore me!"
posted by y2karl at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2002

I was immediately reminded of the Mutter Museum also, Ahmose Nefertari. I think vacapinta would love it there. We'd probably never hear from him again.

My husband's company had their annual Christmas party there a few years ago. We strolled around with cocktails and appetizers and made small talk amidst giant tumors and mummified siamese twins and diseased gall bladders. It was completely surreal and bizarre, and the best party I've ever been to. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said Ewwww! or Gross! or Oh My God! though.

Hey, Look At The Giant Colon! is a quick description of the Mutter Museum for anyone who's thinking about taking the plunge. The museum is actually quite beautiful - the architecture (the winding staircases, ornate mouldings, rich dark woods, haphazardly placed old glass showcases) make you feel as if you're in the laboratory of a really classy mad scientist.

Vacapinta, your bonus link is fabulous. The positions and attitudes of the stuffed rabbits is haunting. The kitty marriage vignette (the one where he actually dresses them up) made me laugh. Stuffed cute animals, indeed.
posted by iconomy at 9:01 AM on September 1, 2002

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