I am about to embark on a new horror story, based around the concept of anatomical models from the 17th and 18th centuries. The original ‘Anatomical Venus’ by Clemente Susini can still be seen at La Specola museum in Florence. She is known as ‘the Medici Venus’, and is a life-size wax figure with real human hair, and can be dissected into seven anatomically correct layers. She spawned numerous copies, referred to as Slashed Beauties or Dissected Graces. My favourite is the one pictured above, with her gold crown and serene expression, while her innards lay exploded over her chest and stomach.
These models were both scientific educational tools and works of high art. The artists who produced them were often students of anatomy and witnessed dissections to get the details right; some even had a tiny fetus incorporated into the display. Like Snow White, they were kept in glass coffins.
After they were discarded by their medical institutes and museums, the anatomical models were often incorporated into the displays of fairground attractions. The languid nudity of the wax figures attracted the voyeurs, while the faux dissections attracted those individuals with morbid curiosity or scientific interests.
What a range of horrific possibilities for a writer! Who were the original models for each of these wax figures? Were these wax sculptures based on real women, or idealised ones? It isn’t a big jump to seeing an artist murdering a perfect, healthy girl to get his details right…
The real tantalising detail is knowing the best of these Slashed Beauties could be broken down into seven anatomically correct layers. Not only is the name, Slashed Beauties, just wonderfully creepy, but think of the metaphor created by a woman with so many layers. As Shrek points out, she has layers “Like an onion!” What is revealed as you peel those layers away?