In The Womb
March 15, 2007 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Outstanding collection of 18th century obstetrical models at the Anatomical Museum in Modena, Italy. NSFW, the teratology section at the end is especially gruesome. [via]
posted by bobobox (25 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
An excellent post on medical models previously.
posted by bobobox at 9:16 AM on March 15, 2007

Link seems to be down for the moment - look forward to looking at them later, though.

I remember the collection of preserved human foeti dating from the turn of the century at various stages of development at my freshwater private liberal arts college. Ah, the good ol' ontogeny doesn't necessarily recapitulate phylogeny...
posted by porpoise at 9:47 AM on March 15, 2007

The first set is really awesome; the poses, colours, and sheen of the models reminds me of the statues in the church I attended when I was little. Very cool.

I didn't get too far into the teratology set.
It's lunchtime.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:27 AM on March 15, 2007

Those are some pretty damn impressive models, considering their age.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 10:50 AM on March 15, 2007

NSFW, hell! I just sent that link to everyone in my office! (Granted, we are a company that specializes in medical information.)
posted by ijoshua at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2007

Since I'm not knowledgable a lot of those pictures, even before the end section seem disturbing. Many of those babies in the wombs seem to be in awkward positions that just don't seem natural. I don't want to think about this subject any more. Thinking about birth defects and deformities about which nothing can be done is depressing.
posted by bhouston at 10:58 AM on March 15, 2007

How fantastic! I wish I had one of these graceful, pain-impervious ladies as my friend.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2007

posted by andythebean at 11:09 AM on March 15, 2007

I love how the women are holding their skin open so accommodatingly so we can see their insides. I know what Alvy means about church statues. Their genteel expressions juxtaposed with the anatomical realism reminds me of statues like this.
posted by Biblio at 11:13 AM on March 15, 2007

It seems to have been somewhat common during this era and before for the subject of an anatomical study to be portrayed this way, that is, proffering their own viscera, holding back flaps of their own skin. I wonder when this technique was abandoned, and why.
posted by ijoshua at 11:20 AM on March 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Exactly, Biblio!

I can't get the "Drawing back the curtains" statues out of my head. They're such an incredibly visceral (pun intended) images that'd be perfect for a film or comic.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:24 AM on March 15, 2007

ijoshua, thanks for those links. I especially like how a convenient leaf is covering the genitals of this one, despite the fact that her entire reproductive system is hanging out (while she casually holds a tomato!).
posted by Biblio at 11:34 AM on March 15, 2007

Biblio, I think you've sourced the "babies come from the cabbage patch" myth with that image!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:49 AM on March 15, 2007

I wonder when this technique was abandoned, and why.

posted by staggernation at 12:32 PM on March 15, 2007

That was beautiful . The style of the pieces remind me of classic religious works (Italy) of the 14th and 15th century , which makes them all the more strange and wonderful. Brings to mind the film Faust as well for some reason.
posted by nola at 2:04 PM on March 15, 2007

Wow, indeed extremely amazing!

bhouston - some of those awkward positions, I believe, are examples of when delivery goes wrong - which isn't too uncommon. In modern times, I believe ultrasound is used to make sure the baby is in the right position before inducing labour (and if they're not, there may be some attempt to reposition it).

iirc, improper birth position was a major factor in mortality for the mother (and infant) during childbirth although I suspect that infections are also another high risk factor.
posted by porpoise at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2007

Those were fantastic.

And yeah, most of them were of babies in very bad positions for birth, back in the bad old days many of those would result in a dead baby, and quite likely a dead mother too. The picture with the filename mode31.jpg made me cringe.

Very nifty all the way around.
posted by sotonohito at 3:52 PM on March 15, 2007

These are beautiful, so much obvious care went into designing them with both education and aesthetics, even if some of them are wince-inducing. Best of the web for sure, great post.
posted by biscotti at 4:31 PM on March 15, 2007

Wow, that's a great post bobobox, one of the best for a while... on 2 levels, the first being that art/science level that only the Italians can do!

The second being the fact my sister was a breech birth (by the way, a completely natural phenomenon bhouston!) My dad recounts the story occasionally, and this post has made me think about where humanity would be without advances of science and medicine since the renaissance!
posted by derbs at 5:41 PM on March 15, 2007

So fucking cool. I had no idea this much anatomy was under peoples' belts by 1775.
Was a lot of this information (e.g. about the position of different babies) just inferred from how the baby came out? Or did they have enough mothers who died in childbirth to draw from?
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 7:30 PM on March 15, 2007

Impressive — every high school biology department should display a set of these.

More of same (by other artists) in the Bioephemera post, Wombs, Waxes and Wonder Cabinets.
posted by cenoxo at 8:39 PM on March 15, 2007

Excellent post. Really marvellous educational sculptures and models. wow. I learned a lot looking at them. And they're so beautiful. Incredible they were made in the 1700's. Amazing.

The website on which those images are found,, has other charming photographs connected with his "passion for antique medical and scientific instruments" and links to other medical museums in Italy.
posted by nickyskye at 10:15 PM on March 15, 2007

Here's a cached version as it looks like the original site is messed up now.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:57 PM on March 15, 2007

Thanks for the extra links ijoshua, cenoxo and nickyskye.
Now I'm wondering why the Italians have so many medical museums.
posted by bobobox at 7:10 AM on March 16, 2007

It's because so many of the advances in medicine occurred in Italy, bobobox. Galen was a Roman; the great anatomists such as Vesalius and Leonardo followed in his footsteps. The name of the "Medici," the great family that ushered in the Italian High Renaissance, literally means "doctors." The world's oldest continuously operating medical school is in Bologna, along with the rest of the venerable University there.

It was only when England and her navy rose to world predominance that the exciting things in medicine started happening there; Jenner, Harvey, and the like.

Wonderful post, btw. Thanks.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:46 AM on March 16, 2007

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