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Set of nine wax plaques showing foetal development and dissection views of a female figure, Europe, 1801-1830

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This series of nine wax plaques shows both the development of a foetus during pregnancy plus anatomical details from the dissection of a young, pregnant female figure. Such images would have been used to teach anatomy through illustrating the essential parts of the body during pregnancy. Dissections were normally carried out on the bodies of criminals but as pregnant women could not be executed, opportunities to study the pregnant body were rare. Plaques and anatomical models were important teaching aids and could highlight and enlarge specific aspects of the body, thereby making smaller structures more visible and understandable. All these plaques are made from wax and the details are carved in relief, creating a 3-D image which projects from a flat surface.

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Glossary: pregnancy

The condition of having a developing unborn embryo or foetus in the body. A human pregnancy is usually of 40 weeks gestation.

Glossary: anatomy

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

Glossary: obstetrics

A branch of medicine dealing with the care of women. This care occurs during pregnancy, childbirth, and the period of recovery from childbirth.

Glossary: plaque

An ornamental tablet of metal, porcelain etc that depicts a person, scene or inscription. Often fixed to a building in commemoration of a person or notable historical occurence.

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.