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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Art with embryos

Art with embryos by Alex CF

"Something entirely unique, something beautiful and charming and grotesque, perhaps a little more esoteric" was how was described to me, and I believe it does live up to it.

I have to say that one of the very few things that makes me uncomfortable with anatomical art is the arrangement of fetuses. That said, I do recognise that one of the best early ways to understand human development and growth was to look at nature's "mistakes" (for example, read Armand Marie Leroi's Mutants). Willem Vrolik, John Hunter and Thomas Mütter all built collections which formed the basis of major anatomy museums.

Fetus "mutants" from the Vrolik Museum

However illustrative they were for the time, I believe that such things are, understandably, no longer collected for excellent reasons of ethics and taste. However, I do feel sad that the historic displays of the strange genius of Frederick Ruysch have mostly been lost now, and are only known through contemporary engravings.

Engraving of fetus skeletons arranged by Frederick Ruysch

This engraving of an arrangement of skeletons and other natural history items by Ruysch is the only record of this strange display. Note that the main skeletons framing the construction are crying into handkerchiefs, taking the normal display of "animating" a skeleton to new levels. He lies somewhere between Honoré Fragonard and Walter Potter in levels of genius and weirdness.

Ruysch has a virtual museum dedicated to him (thanks to the Morbid Anatomy blog for raising awareness of this). But this can only show the specimens that still exist. And there are so many that have not survived.

And, in this roundabout way, I finally come to the point of this blog. If I could have a wish granted (or win the lottery, or become Queen of the Universe, or received arts council funding; whichever is more likely), I would fund the marvellous Alex CF to make a full set of reproductions. He made the wonderful art sculpture at the head of this blog (now in a private collection), and the many other beautiful works in the Merrylin Cryptid Museum of which he is the curator ( and which unfortunately didn't receive the funds for a permanent home).

But for now I will have to be content with the virtual museums and the engravings to imagine what Ruysch's original collection looked like.

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