Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Gordon Museum Sketches, Part II

A bit on the side regarding Joseph Towne and the nature of his works shown in the Gordon Museum, together with the final sets of drawing studies:

Joseph Towne (1806-1879) was an English moulageur and sculptor who spent the majority of his professional career attached to Guy’s Hospital. Talented from an early age, he showcased works in the Royal Academy shows, but the majority of his career was spent working with several key figures in Guy's Hospital in London. His total output was estimated to be more than 600 models- the bulk of it were dermatology sculptures- with nearly a hundred out that the total amount being anatomical and pathology/comparative models. He is, however chiefly known for his anatomy ceroplastics (coloured wax models, the ones from which the studies were done).

Distinctions in Towne’s work in comparison with other contemporary anatomical models are that ‘…European models (tend to be) models of the living…’ (Towne’s models) as ‘…models of dead people… Towne modeled what he saw’. (Edwards, W. 2013). Roberta Ballestriero, a researcher specializing in wax anatomical models noted the main contrast between Italian and English/German treatment of anatomical waxes relate to stylization vs. anatomical realism. The models in the Cagliari collection were ‘Anatomical Venuses’ compared to the stark, brutal realist depiction of a dissected corpse as per Towne’s treatment. The Cagliari models made by Susini were influenced by a neoclassical tradition, comparable to that (as observed by Ballestriero) of Canova’s statues. However, it can be noted as well how they seem to use the ‘venus’ classification to depict a sensualised figure…

Whilst the Towne models tend to have minimum adornment, being depicted mainly for its intended purpose (as teaching models).

Regardless of treatment, they were all masterful depictions of anatomical figures, and perhaps more importantly as well, the rare instances where overlaps in works designed for a didactic purpose transcend and assume an aesthetic quality unique to the circumstances of its production.


Ballestriero, R. (2010) Anatomical Models and Wax Venuses: Art Masterpieces or Scientific Craft Works? Journal Compilation, Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. 216, pp223-234.

Edwards, W.G.J. (2013) Interview with the curator. London, 14 March. [William Edwards is the curator of the Gordon Museum of Pathology in King’s College London].

Riva, A. (2007) Flesh & Wax: The Clemenete Susini’s Anatomical Models in the University of Cagliari. University of Cagliari: Ilisso.

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