Waxing lyrical

This post was written by Emily Yates, object conservator at Blythe House

As a conservator, it is always fun to work on weird objects, even the gory ones! This beautiful, if macabre, wax model will be on shown in the exhibition Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men at  the Museum of London, running 19 October 2012 until 14 April 2013. To get her looking her best before going on show I had to remove the layers of dust and dirt that had built up over the years and make a few cosmetic repairs.

This anatomical wax model shows the internal organs, the heart is entirely removable, made by Francesco Calenzuoli (1796-1821) ( Science Museum, London )

I gently removed the dirt layers using a soft brush and a detergent solution. Once the dirt was loosened it was carefully blotted away from the surface. As there are some many crevices this was a long, careful process, but was very worthwhile as it made the coloured wax much more bright and vivid. This change in surface brightness can be seen in the images where the intricate features are much more visible. 

The lower left side of the heart has been cleaned, revealing the much brighter red of the heart ( Science Museum, London )

Wax is highly fragile, as she was made in 1818 it was inevitable that some damage had occurred over nearly 200 years. Some fragments of the wax had become detached from the edges; these formed the skin flaps representing the peeled back surface. Areas of the folded back skin running along the edge of the torso have been lost over the years, but it was possible to reattach some of these, shown in the photo.

It was possible to reattach this fragment of skin; you can also see the improved clean surface of the wax ( Science Museum, London )

The veins are made of thread with a wax coating and so are very fragile. Some of these had become dislodged or even crushed. These were also reattached in place, and any flaking wax was consolidated to prevent further damage occurring.

This picture shows damage to the fragile veins and dust build up in the crevices ( Science Museum, London )

If you would like to see the model, she will be on display from tomorrow at the Museum of London along with several other objects  including post mortem kits, dissecting aprons, a piece of brain and even tattoos, all from the Science Museum’s Blythe House store.

2 thoughts on “Waxing lyrical

  1. Brandy

    Fabulous! Wish I were in London to see this amazing exhibit! We did get to see the Wellcome exhibit when it was at the Museum of Science back in 2003.

    I couldn’t imagine keeping any wax items so well conserved here in Southern California. Wow!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


7 + six =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>