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Carved wooden male anatomical figure, Switzerland, 1731-1770

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Carved from wood, this type of anatomical figure showing the muscles without the skin is known as écorché. Part of the arterial blood network, which carries blood away from the heart, is also visible. The model is a variation of a full-scale 1767 statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), a French sculptor. It was not unusual for small scale copies of a well-known model to be made and distributed widely. Anatomical figures were used to teach medical students anatomy as there was a shortage of bodies available for dissection as well as cultural and social taboos to be overcome. Preservation was also difficult. The figures were valued for their visual appeal and were often presented in stylised artistic poses.

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    Glossary: anatomical figure

    Highly detailed models of the full human figure for artists, teachers and medical practitioners.

    Glossary: anatomy

    A branch of medical science concerned with the structure of living organisms.

    Glossary: dissection

    The cutting apart and separation of body tissues for the purposes of critical examination. Dissection of corpses is often carried out for the study of anatomy.