The Anatomical Extravaganzas of Frederik Ruysch
Before our era of 3D digital effects, the visualization of marvels was possible only in the fantastic arrangements of magic lanterns. The third dimension was reached with the multi-level dioramas, or with the physical exhibition of dead bodies of different nature, on the edge between reality and fantasy, art and science. If the two-headed babies of the itinerant sideshows are now a nostalgic icon of the pre-horror movies entertainments, such tradition had some illustrious precursors.
Frederik Ruysch (1638-71) had the ability to merge the wonders of the dioramas with the horrors of the anatomic preservation: not just preserving, but deforming infant bodies affected by anomalies in artistic compositions with the science of taxydermy. Pure spectacle. In some way, he was the Ziegfield of his time.
His “preparation” survived mostly in some series of prints. But some jars survives in St.Petersburg, thanks to the Tzar Peter the Great who bought them from the bizarre anatomist.
We know is a weird way to close a year, and the contrast seem striking with the gentle postcards of last week. But no novelties or wonder is such without the unexpected surprise and the excitation of our primal feeling. Happy new year.