La Specola medical waxes – anatomy heaven

This collection of anatomy waxes in Florence is one I’ve read about for years.  The official website that I checked before leaving on m’big trip was somewhat discouraging, describing a complicated process involving a phone call to apply for a tour place, and implying that the collection would probably be closed when I was going to be in Florence, between Christmas and New Year, as it was part of a University-supervised collection. So I sighed, and resigned my self to only seeing all the other ridiculously astonishing art and palaces on display in this amazing city.

Then . . . we came across the collection somewhat accidentally, at the first museum we visited, The Museum of Zoology and Natural History, next to the Pitti Palace.  I’d gone there with my husband to see the old taxidermied animals (we’re those kind of tourists), and noticed there were anatomical waxes, behind an iron grill.  The lady at the front desk said oh yes it was the collection, and possible to visit with a guide today, should she put our names on the list?  Oh yes.  Photos were fine, although no flash of course.  The thick old glass cases were a challenge to photograph through, although to the eyes, it was perfect.  Amazing to see in the round, and to see the original dioramas in wax that inspired the whole project, astonishing little works of gruesomely gorgeous art by Gaetano Zumbo.

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Tiny wax models, by Zumbo

The colours have shifted since the models were made 200+ years ago at the behest of Leopold II, then Grand Duke of Tuscany.  But still the work is all so delicate, so precise, so so so everything.  Beautiful, art and craft serving science.  There are several ‘Venus’ models, which I have seen in miniature in other medical collections, but here were the originals, as created by Clemente Susini, life size with long  (real) hair, a string of pearls, and a belly made to be removed to reveal the inner workings of females (the glass case and angle meant I didn’t get a photograph, but there’s a discussion of them here).

There’s  fine summary of the collection’s history in The Journal of Anatomy.  The  most complex models (for example of the lymphatic system) involved hundreds of dissections, conducted mostly on the bodies of criminals and ‘unclaimed poor’.  Each finished piece is a testament to collaboration between skilled dissections, and skilled wax workers.  The collection was also important for the public access that was permitted – any member of the public who was ‘clean’ was allowed to visit, it was the first public science museum.

 

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Making puppets and making puppets

Another week, another puppet finished – in a little over a week Late Night Puppets will be opening in Wellington, part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.  It’s a playful improvised show, with as the title suggests, a few puppets in it, as well as a bunch of human friends.  Most of the puppets found me through ebay, but a few, five or six if I keep sewing, will be puppets I’ve made.

Here’s Cinnamon or Caramel or Ginger (he/she goes by various names), whose arms were stitched on just in time for today’s training session.  cinamin2

The eyes are from a $1 toy found in a charity shop, with added doll eyes replacing the original black spots.  I felt vaguely guilty about cutting up a creature just for the eyes, so also reused the fabric horns, and made a blue and pink tongue out of one of the original legs.

In pieces on Friday

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Glum, so very glum

It was a holiday-day here yesterday, so I finally made a serious start on painting the latex lizardling created in the Jordu Schell workshop last month.  Doubtless there will be significant changes still (should it be blue skin?  Or perhaps golden-bronze??), but at least tis begun.

I’ll also try a version with instamorph teeth and spines, but I am still figuring out how to best secure these into the mask.

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Monsters, lovely monsters

It’s been much too long since I made any masks.

And I’ve never made a classic latex mask using a plaster mould.  My masks have all been one-off creations in instamorph, baring some very early efforts with papier mâché.  I’ve always thought I should know how to work in the basic method that so many other mask-makers use.

Soo, this week, I’m taking advantage of a short course at a nearby university, run by a properly famous creature creator, Jordu Schell.  Today was Day Three, when we all finished our sculptures, covered them in casting plaster, and then cleaned our moulds of clay.

It was a pleasant novelty to take a sculpt to a really finished texture, fully creating a character in clay.  This is not my usual mask-making process, when detail is added directly on the mask’s plastic surface.   The clay we used, WED clay is also new to me.  It’s not made to be fired, and is smooth and firm and very slow drying.  I even made some new tools last night to help me create the scales on my glum reptile’s skin, inspired by a cunning tiny loop that another student made with old guitar string and a chopstick.  Mine used ukulele string, clay wire, and Instamorph handles.

I should have done more research on reptile skin techniques before beginning to hand-draw scales, as I was slightly cross eyed by the end. But I’m pretty happy with where I got to.

Tomorrow when the moulds are dry it will be time to pour the latex, while Friday will be the  fun of finishing and painting.  I am taking  many notes, which I hope will still make sense when I eventually try to follow them.

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Glump, ready to get plastered

 

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Tiny tiny tools

 

Flies, as used for flyering

Among the masks made for scifi improv show Return to the Planet, a trio of bug-eyed bugs, denizens of Planet Beelzebub.  Dressed up in one of these (with a fetching green velvet medieval gown to complete the ensemble), handing out flyers for the show was surprisingly easy.  A buzz even (ow, don’t hit me).   I was amused as always by the people who pretended not to see me – it takes real determination to ignore a giant fly walking through the central city on a weekday lunchtime.

The mask is made of Instamporph, over a clay sculpt, the eyes are plastic hi-bounce balls, cut in half and lined with kitchen-drawer liner foil.  The paint is acrylic, with texture from those micobeads sold for scrap booking, under a couple of layers of clear acrylic sealer.  Antenna made of instamorph over wire – although I had to go back and thicken them up, as my initial efforts proved a little fragile.