Delight or Disgust? The Afterlife of Anatomical Waxworks

Marla Dobson, Emma Rosalind Peacocke


How do we display the uncanny? During the Second World War the medical school of Queen’s University (Canada) commissioned artist Marjorie Winslow to make a series of wax teaching models to illustrate childbirth, in three dimensions, for the benefit of medical students. How have curators displayed these obstetric waxworks, which provoke strong feelings of disgust or of horrified empathy? Even in storage in the Museum of Healthcare at Kingston, the Winslow waxworks remain concealed behind a curtain, and when they are on display, they are now far more likely to be part of in an art exhibition than a medical history display. This paper uses the early history of obstetric waxworks and their display in eighteenth-century Italy to show how medical waxworks have always challenged the disciplinary divide between art and science. This historical context informs our understanding of the display history of the Winslow waxworks and of uncanny objects in general.


waxworks; obstetrics; art; medicine; exhibition

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Copyright (c) 2019 Marla Dobson, Emma Rosalind Peacocke

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360