A Model Woman

A photo of the almost life-size papier-mâché anatomical model of a woman.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola

Photo by Kathy Tarantola

Among the hundreds of objects that were rediscovered during the recent move out of Sage Hall, the most remarkable is the almost life-size papier-mâché anatomical model of a woman made in 1928 by Maison Auzoux, a firm founded by French surgeon Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux.

Auzoux displayed his botanical, zoological, and anatomical models at international exhibitions and sold them to colleges, medical schools, and museums. He described his models as “clastic,” from the Greek word “to break,” because they were designed to be taken apart and reassembled; these écorché, or skinless, models, showing muscles, fat, nerves, and blood vessels, were safer and more durable than cadavers for pedagogical purposes.

Interactive models like these respond to what was known in art history as the Wellesley Method of experiential learning, but faculty taught in this manner across the curriculum. College founders Henry and Pauline Durant purchased a collection of Auzoux’s botanical models, some of which are displayed in Global Flora, following the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. They also tried to purchase one of Auzoux’s male models, but orders were backlogged a year. Harvard had one to sell, so Durant sent his friend, Wellesley’s early benefactor Eben Norton Horsford, to examine it because he needed to know if it could be “introduced to polite society”; in other words, he wanted a model without reproductive organs. He must have found one, since a now-lost male model does appear in archival photographs. Despite Durant’s misgivings, as the years passed, courses put an emphasis on understanding both female and male reproduction; Wellesley eventually acquired Auzoux’s models of a fetus in the womb and complete female and male torsos, as well as this female model, one of only four known to exist today. The pose deliberately echoed the ancient marble Medici Venus but it was vividly and realistically painted, and, when the skull and abdominal cavity are opened, the organs are removable.

The restoration of the model was generously funded by DeWayne N. Phillips as a gift to Caroline A. Wamsler ’91 in celebration of their 30th anniversary; it was installed in the Data Lounge in the Science Complex this spring.

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