Friday 2 June 2023

Anatomy lessons

Anatomy lessons at the Royal Academy of Arts.

As we were wandering around the RA during our last visit, we came across the ecorche figures below which were used by students who studied anatomy. Ecorche figures served as teaching aids for both artists and medical studentsSo they could be studied, dead bodies had their skin removed to reveal their muscles before being cast in plaster. The result is these figures we came across.

Anatomical Crucifixion (James Legg), 1801

This striking ecorche figure was made to settle an artistic debate. Sculptor Thomas Banks and painters Benjamin West and Richard Cosway believed that most artists' depictions did not accurately demonstrate the effects of crucifixion. To prove their point, they obtained a corpse fresh from the gallows and nailed it to a cross while it was still warm. Once rigor mortis set in, a surgeon removed the skin and Banks made this plaster cast from the flayed body. 

The body was that of James Legg, a Chelsea pensioner who shot one of his colleagues dead after an argument. Despite being in his seventies and possibly suffering from dementia, Legg was sentenced to be hanged and afterwards 'anatomised'.

Cast from an original by Agostino Carlini, Smugglerius, 1834

A young RA student, John Deare, recalled that he saw a man hanged and 'being a fine subject, they took him to the Royal Academy, and covered him with plaster'. From this mould, a cast was made. 'Smugglerius', the Academy's mock-Latin nickname for the figure, refers to the belief that the man had been a smuggler. The pose is taken from that of the Dying Gaul, an ancient Roman sculpture.

William Hunter, Standing polychrome ecorche, 1771

William Hunter, the Academy's first professor of anatomy made this ecorche figure from the corpse of Solomon Porter, a burglar turned murdered who was executed in 1771. Skin was removed from the corpse, which was then set in a pose and cast in plaster. The naturalistic paintwork and areas of deep dissection produce a powerful, if gruesome, effect.

A student at the RA Schools noted that Hunter needed 'the body fresh to cast a plaster anatomical figure from it'.

It has recently been found that Hunter removed the penis of the figure to keep as a scientific specimen for his collection. It remains in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow.


No comments:

Post a Comment