Clemente Susini (1754-1814) was a Florentine artist who created a wax making studio that produced some of the most extraordinary anatomical waxes of his day.
The Anatomical Venus (left above) is the superstar model amongst the ‘slashed beauties’ of this collection. She lies, supine, yielding, her gesture and facial expression comparable to the ecstatic expression of the marble St Theresa (1647-52) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The woman’s pose in each suggests orgasm. The viewer in the Susini exhibits is offered, literally, to go inside the woman’s body – each of her parts is superbly crafted in a seductively life-like representation. In the 19th century, seeing the Anatomical Venus was on the itinerary of young upperclass men’s (and some women) ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe to witness classical culture, with depictions of Venus – representing beauty, love and fertility – being de rigeur on the agenda. There is no doubt that Venus waxes would cause more than a frisson to the Victorian male gaze. These waxes are anatomical pornography. Joanna Ebenstein, writer and curator, has held a long fascination with their meaning. Until recently her Brooklyn museum, The Morbid Anatomy Museum, showcased international art and artefacts on wax figures and death. Ebenstein has a blog: http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.co.uk/ and has published books on artistic representation of anatomy and death (see Bibliography). She contributed to my co-curated talks series Interiority: An Exploration of the Inward Gaze in September 2017 at the Old Operating Theatre Museum.