In 1719, the cousins of the Italian-trained wax modeller Guillaume Desnoües brought some of his anatomical waxworks to London. These were shown with the claim that they could be seen ‘without exciting the feeling of horror men usually have on seeing corpses’. By 1733 a London surgeon was reported as displaying an Anatomical Venus in Covent Garden. This wax model was of a woman who was ‘suppos’d’ opened alive and it showed the circulation of the blood in pregnancy. Anatomical wax figures were incredibly popular in Europe especially in Italy, but London would have to wait until the nineteenth century for their popularity to spread to the metropolis. That is not to say they were not in existence, imported from Italy and other countries and treasured like rare gems. The most popular figures were models of beautiful women invariably reclined in ‘passive yet sexually inviting poses’, the male wax models contrasted this by being portrayed as upright men (fig. 1, 2). These three-dimensional depictions of the female body have been linked to depictions in erotic books from the same period as they ‘employ similar gendered codes of movement’.
Fig. 1, Wax anatomical figure of reclining woman, probably made by the workshops of Clemente Susini. Florence, Italy, 1771-1800. Source No: A627043 © Science Museum
Fig. 2, Wax male anatomical figure, probably made by the workshops of Clemente Susini. Florence, Italy, 1776-1780. Source No. A608367 © Science Museum.
Wax modellers may have taken their anatomical knowledge from the corpses of criminals, but if so, the finished product was far removed from what would have been witnessed on the dissection table. Anatomical manuals did not really differ in this regard. Anatomical illustrations in books and pamphlets were shown exclusively in terms of their generative function. Muscles, the skeleton, and nervous systems, were almost exclusively depicted on the male body along with all the organs common to both males and females. The male form was predominantly shown écorché, flayed to varying degrees, this was also apparent in male wax anatomical models. The female body was never shown without some drapery of skin. Illustrations of the female body emphasised gender and sexual availability. These female figures were shown as smooth-skinned and attractive, often with long hair and posed in an alluring way.
Early anatomy manuals drew on the Italian style of images, specifically the Vesalian illustrations which were made available to the English through the work of Thomas Geminus during the sixteenth century. Only a limited number of people would have had access to such manuals, namely the members of the Barber-Surgeons Company, the members of the Royal College of Physicians and rich collectors from the upper spheres of society. Anatomy manuals were used as teaching aids and collectors’ items due to the expense in their production and use of Latin within the texts. By the seventeenth century, Helkiah Crooke employed the style of Geminus alongside that of other artists in his own anatomical text Microcosmographia, first published in 1615. The image on the title page shows the difference in mentalities directed towards the male and female corpse. It depicts a completely écorché male figure but the female figure is covering her sex and only her stomach is opened to the viewer so they can witness her reproductive function (fig.3). The female is posed in a classical style, almost modestly. The left hand is raised over the left breast but resting upon the right one. The straightening of the female’s fingers in the hand upon the right breast leads to the conclusion that she is presenting her breast to the viewers, who would have almost certainly been male. This pose holds a similarity to images of the Madonna offering her breast to the infant Christ. One other association that the female figure alludes to is the images of Venus, both the statue of Venus de’ Medici and Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus. Whether interpreted as the Madonna, Venus or as a seductress, the one association that is not made between this image and female archetypes is an association with the female criminal.
Fig 3. Etching on the title page of Mikrokosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man. 1615. © The British Library.
Crooke’s book was highly controversial, not least because it was published in English and not Latin, but also due to the iconographic depictions, including the cover image. In 1614, the College of Physicians debated the question of vernacular publication: Several thought that a few subjects and more indecent illustrations should be removed, and other points ought also to be corrected, while many considered that book four, with the pictures of the generative organs should be destroyed and that he [Crooke] should be enjoined to confess that it was a translation, that is of many subjects from Laurentius…and of…Bauhin. Crooke did eventually bow to some of the pressure and the second edition only depicted a flayed male figure in the process of dissecting himself on the front page. Depictions of male figures actually performing the art of dissections upon their own persons are of interest. There are no similar images of female figures in these poses and these types of images are clearly displaying the living figure and not the corpse. Likewise, Alexander Read’s Somatographia anthropine, or a Description of the Body of Man originally published in 1616 was very similar in its iconographical depictions, again following the style set out by Andreas Vesalius in the late sixteenth century. Even by 1681 when John Browne published Myographia nova, or, A graphical description of all the muscles in humane body, as they arise in dissection, the depictions were all male, and again the image of figures dissecting themselves were in use (fig 4). Anatomists were not interested in the female muscular set it seems, and Browne, even as a surgeon who had performed many dissections, does not deem them relevant for inclusion in his study. These self-dissecting iconographic images are reminiscent of the story of Apollo and Marsyas as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Renaissance ideas of a Classical story were familiar enough to provide some sort of dialogue which is why this particular style persisted for as long as it did.
Fig. 4, John Brown, copperplate engraving showing muscles of the back and shoulder. © Wellcome Images.
Kate Cregan argues that a reason for staying in the Vesalian style, and in fact still using and re-engraving Vesalian woodcuts into the seventeenth century, was that it ‘described the sorts of eroticised overlay which those engravings drew with them in the depiction of the female body’. These images were impressed on the minds of observers and the public who witnessed anatomy demonstrations. Their use propagated the idea that ‘the gendered, cultural, gestural and aesthetic codes that are present in these representations of the body are in fact essential’.
Eighteen years after Browne’s work, anatomical illustrations changed. William Cowper’s 1698, The Anatomy of Humane Bodies with Figures Drawn After the Life by Some of the Best Masters in Europe depicts the female figure in a way never seen in England before. The first two images of female bodies are still similar in style to earlier manuals (fig 5 and 6), but this soon changed.
Fig. 5 and 6, etchings from pages 36 and 39 of The Anatomy of Humane Bodies 1698
The other five images of the female body within the manual could be criminal cadavers, although these first two clearly are not. If Cowper’s claim that the images were drawn from life is indeed true it is highly probable that the following images were taken from criminal corpses. This may not be apparent when looking at the female depictions but is hinted at when viewing the male cadavers (fig. 7, 8).
Fig. 7 and 8, Etchings from pages 123 and 114 of The Anatomy of Humane Bodies. 1698. Note the noose around the necks and the bound hands.
In all five images of female cadavers within this manual they are still depicted with some drapery of skin and the viewers focus is drawn to the stomach and reproductive system. (fig 9, 10, 11, 12, 13).
Fig. 9, 10, 11, 12, Etchings on pages, 126,174,195,197 of The Anatomy of Humane Bodies 1698.
Fig 13. Etchings on page 201 of The Anatomy of Humane Bodies 1698, showing the development of the foetus.
All five drawings show the females breasts and four of them expose her genitals. In all the images, the idea of her sexual nature intrudes, especially fig 12. From her half-hidden face but slightly parted inviting mouth, to the rounded breasts and eroticised pose.
Surgeons and Physicians would have rarely dissected a cadaver that was pregnant, but it is possible they performed autopsies on women who had died in childbirth and thus gained insight into this aspect of anatomy. In the late eighteenth century when William Hunter wrote The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus he was accused of murdering pregnant women to perform dissections upon them. Although both the Hunter brothers were involved in grave robbing, murder itself seems unlikely. The images in Cowper’s manual were drawn by Gerard de Lairesse and had been used in another, slightly earlier, Dutch work. Cowper unmistakably plagiarised that earlier work, but the images resonated with the English just as much as the Dutch and for the first time we see a move away from the Vesalian illustrations. Until the end of the seventeenth century the images in anatomy manuals were clearly portrayed as those of living figures not images of a dead cadaver.
When Matthew Baillie published his anatomy manual in 1799 the anatomical illustrations had greatly changed. They no longer depicted a living person as a corpse and instead portrayed dismembered body parts of clearly deceased individuals (fig. 14). Here gender is no longer at the forefront of interpretations of the human body, as it had clearly been beforehand.
Fig. 26, Mr Clift’s Original Drawings for Dr Baillie’s Work on Morbid Anatomy 1799. Drawing: 103/25 © Royal College of Physicians
 T. Schnalke, Diseases in Wax: The History of the Medical Moulage trans. K. Spatschek, (Chicago: Quintessence Publishing Company, 1995), p. 29; M. Von Düring, G. Didi-Huberman, and M. Poggesi, Encyclopaedia Anatomica: Museo La Specola, Florence (Cologne: Taschen, 2004), pp. 10-12, 20-25.
 E. Hurren, Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 142, also see, Anon, A catalogue and particular description of the human anatomy in wax-work, and several other preparations; to be seen at the Royal Exchange (1736).
 L. Jordanova, Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine Between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 44-45.
 K. Harvey, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and gender in English Erotic Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 190.
 H. Crooke, Mikrokosmographia. A description of the body of man: Together with the controversies thereto belonging (1631).
 K .Cregan, The Theatre of the Body: Staging Death and Embodying Life in Early-Modern London (Belgium: Brepols, 2009), p. 88.
 C. Walker-Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991), also discussed in Cregan, The Theatre of the Body, p. 88.
 G. Keynes, The Life of William Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 73, discussed in J Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 225.
 A. Read, Somatographia anthropine, or a Description of the Body of Man (1616)
 K. Cregan, ‘Teaching the Anatomical Body in Seventeenth-Century London’, Medicine Studies, Vol. 2 (2010), p. 30.
 Cregan, The Theatre of the Body, pp. 244-245.
 D. Shelton, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, (January 29, 2010), pp. 1-5.
 For arguments regarding this see, A. Roberts, T. Baskett, A. Calder, and S. Arulkumaran, ‘William Smellie and William Hunter: two great obstetricians and anatomists’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, (April 30, 2010), pp. 1-2.
 RCP MS-BAILM/103/1-27, Mr. Clift’s original drawings for Dr. Baillie’s work on morbid anatomy; M. Baillie, A Series of Engravings accompanied with explanations which are intended to illustrate the morbid anatomy of some of the most important parts of the human body (1799).