Friday, 7 April 2017

F = fair is foul

Life-sized wax sculpture, 18th Century
Said to resemble Queen Elizabeth I

How would you feel about featuring this objet d'art on your mantelpiece or side-board? 
Reckon this two-faced figurine might put you off your Cornflakes? 

Quite frankly, I'm unsure which side I find most scary: the fair or the foul. I suspect the witches from Polanski's Macbeth may be the only ones to covet a great many of the collectibles Sir Henry fancied. 

Oil painting, c.1800
This fashion-forward female has gone a step beyond two-faced and moved into Split-personality-ville. 

Vanitas or memento mori, that's what the genres into which these artworks fall are called. Queenie up above even has the relevant Biblical verse inscribed in Latin under her chin:
Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas
'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'

And the chirpy expression memento mori translates to 'Remember you will die'.
So the purpose of these beauties was to remind you that life is fleeting and vanity is futile. In fact, pretty much everything is futile, because we're all going to end up as worm food anyway.
Thanks for that.

I thought this was a woman but apparently it could be a
young man in 17th Century finery. Even more than the snakes
heading for his eye socket, I particularly like the frog on his shoulder.
I think the one to the left is my very favourite. Not only is this little Italian masterpiece enticingly framed, but it would fit neatly into your palm. It would slip comfortably into your average 18th century pocket or hand-embroidered purse.

I like to imagine someone dressed in their finest frippery and furbelow ( is really a word.  And NO, it doesn't mean THAT...) 
I like to imagine someone fabulous resplendently whipping it out like a compact as they head off to powder their nose.
Who needs a mirror?

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

E = Eyeball entrepreneur

iPhoto pic edited with Snapseed
If words were rocket fuel, I could have travelled to the farthest exoplanet and back several times on the strength of the sentence: 'Remember to look with your eyes and not your hands.' 

My son was a toucher. The only way he could really process an object was to feel it... 
and sniff it. 
He always was special and different. Okay, full disclosure, he still is. 
And although nowadays he CAN refrain from touching, he'd really prefer not to. I can almost see the tips of his fingers glowing when he is in a new environment.

iPhoto pic edited with Snapseed
I imagine Sir Henry liked to run his fingers over objects too, like these smooth, cleverly crafted eye-baths. Natty little objects of glass, ceramic and silver, they are really very pretty, even if they do make me visualise popping out an eyeball and sitting it on the top like an egg in a cup.

And while eye-baths are incredibly useful, especially for dealing with London pollution, I can't help but think they would be immensely more valuable if a decent eye-wash could help you unsee something. Invent one of those and watch your money worries fly away.

iPhoto pic edited with Snapseed
It's hard to tell from my crappy photo, but the glass eyes in this satin-lined case are different colours. I can't help wondering if they all belonged to the same person, so he/she could match at least one eye to his/her daily outfit of choice. 
Or maybe the eye chosen was a warning sign to others: 
blue = you may approach, I'm feeling sunny 
green = be gentle with me, I 'm a bit sick today 
brown = stay the hell away, I'm as shitty as the shittiest thing on a shitty day.
Quite helpful really.

Sir Henry may have been a massively successful entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical field, but I reckon he missed perhaps his greatest money-making opportunity.
The object to the right is a 19th Century Sudanese amulet, a talisman, good-luck charm if you will. It carries spells to ward off the effects of the evil-eye. 
Do you see where I'm going with this? 

Surely every parent on the planet would buy one of these things when their beloved progeny hits the teenage years. They could be mass-produced in various forms to counteract the stink-eye, the hairy eyeball, the greasy eyeball, and my daughter's specialty, the death stare. 

Fabric versions (for long-term survival of both the parent and the amulet) could be tucked secretively inside an item of clothing. 
Transfers or henna versions would affix the symbol directly to your body. (I recommend the forehead as the most effective place because it would serve the double purpose of also embarrassing your teenager in public, as is every parent's duty.)
Paper versions might be packaged like tissues, for easy transport and day-to-day emergencies. 
The possibilities are e for endless.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

D = Death and a doo-dad (with sing-along)

Death mask and executioner's mask in Medicine Man gallery
iPhone pic edited with Snapseed
I dithered about what to choose for the letter D, I really did. 
Death seemed too obvious. So I moved on to doo-dads. The Wellcome Collection is chock-full of doo-dads.
Sadly, doo-dads proved to be too unstructured — even for me. 
With the demise of doo-dads, I contemplated dick. Wellcome has more than a few of those on display. But I worried that we don't know each other well enough for me to discuss those. So dick got the metaphorical flick.
Egyptian canopic jars, French guillotine blade &
the death mask of Englishman Benjamin Disraeli.
Displayed in the same case, Medicine Man gallery

Always one to keep my readers' needs in mind, I felt sure nobody could cope with plague and pestilence so soon after the exposed flesh and gore of my letter C entry. Put a red line through disease. That will bring us back to... (sing along now in your best Julie Andrews' Maria Von Trapp-like voice...I'm trying my best to keep this cheery and upbeat) — that will bring us back to death -eth -eth -eth...

The contents of Henry Wellcome's pockets at his death 

Sir Henry Wellcome died at 12.40am on 25th July 1936. He was 82.
At the time of his death, one of the wealthiest, most curious, and best-travelled monomaniacs on the planet was carrying a pocket-watch, a one-dollar bill, some small change, his spectacles and a fine emerald ring.
That's it?
Pretty disappointing if you ask me.
I mean, I know the Queen doesn't have to carry about her pay-wave card and coin purse in case she has to use a parking metre, but I thought Sir Henry might've at least kept enough ready-cash on hand to do a sweet deal on any fossilised kidneys or gold-plated stethoscopes he might stumble across in the course of his daily dealings.

The only interesting thing is that emerald ring. 
Unless Sir Henry had exceptionally slender fingers, it doesn't look like it would have fitted him. There has to be a story there. 
So let's speculate.
Let's bring old Sir Henry back from the dead.
Where did he get that emerald ring?
Was he intending to give it to someone or did he carry it for good luck?
What do you think?

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

C = Controversial or just plain creepy?

Henry Soloman Wellcome, 1887
Image credit: Wellcome Library
Sir Henry Wellcome was a crazy keen collector. His compulsive need to acquire anything that vaguely illustrated the 'art and science of healing throughout the ages' alienated and exhausted many of his staff. And eventually drove his wife off.

He intended that his cumulation of treasures become the Museum of Man. Of less than trifling concern was the sacrifice to the cause of the occasional woman.

By the time Wellcome died in 1935, he had amassed over 1 million artefacts, plus a small mountain range of books. 
Most had not been catalogued. 
Much seems to have had tenuous (at best) links to his initial aims. Sir Henry seems rather to have fallen in love with the process of seeking out increasingly more bizarre and varied items and images, no matter how controversial they may be.

Anatomical paintings by JF Gautier d'Agoty, c. 1760
Dimensions of each: 53.5cm x 193cm

Image credits: Wellcome Library

The oil paintings pictured above are life-sized, and were highly controversial in their day. To be honest, I reckon they are still conversation-worthy today, almost 300 years later. Attention to detail (no matter how shocking), the use of colour, light, and the postures of the subjects make them more like portraits than anatomical works. People of the day were confounded.
Is it art or science? 
Is it macabre or magnificent?
Me of today wonders if it is a wee bit creepy to use romantic style for clinical subjects.
And does anyone else find the fact that the pregnant female figures have in-tact faces, heads and breasts more than a wee bit worrisome? If you could paint a dissected baby or two, why would you shy away from a boob? 

The Anatomical Angel
Image credit :Wellcome Library
The work pictured at left is Gautier D'Agoty's most famous. 
He called her The Anatomical Angel but she has come to be popularly known as The Flayed Angel, her flesh folded back from her spine like wings.

At the risk of giving away far too much about myself, I find her more stylish than shocking. She strikes me as calm, not contentious. I find this image mesmerising.

But I'd really like to know what you think. 
If you've bothered to read this far, I hope you'll also take the time to leave a word to indicate your opinion of Gautier D'Agoty.

What do you think: 

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Monday, 3 April 2017

B = Body beautiful

I like to call this photo "Check out my chest"
Image credit: Wellcome Library
Body beautiful — we hear those words as a pair so often that their partnership has become a modern cliche. Yet for many of us (and I'm putting my hand up to be included here) they sit together more as an uncomfortable oxymoron than a cuddly duo. 

The pursuit of body beautiful powers the fitness industry, the fashion industry, the diet industry, the cosmetics industry, more than just a few bloody awful reality shows...and hordes of misguided hopefuls who suck in their guts for the camera like this dashing dude. 
Bless him.
Although I reckon he was probably going for the puffed pecs rather than the tummy tuck.

And yes, the pursuit of body beautiful also gives us the occasional media sweetheart, like Gok Wan. I'll truck no criticism of the lovely Aunty Gok — who is close to the top of my list of people I hope to see in full three-glorious-breathing-walking-talking-dimensions while I'm here in London... but I digress.

I Can't Help the Way I Feel 
British artist: John Isaacs, 2003
While body beauty may be deemed to be a matter of perception, surely even Aunty Gok would be challenged by John Isaacs's much larger than life headless, genderless sculpture in Wellcome's Medicine Now gallery
No amount of self-confidence, no quantity of glowing reassurance from strangers, no carefully posed photo shoot could make 'I' look good naked. 

The artist here represents what he calls 'the emotional landscape' of someone stigmatised by modern society's obsession with body beautiful and the obesity epidemic. 
And that someone may not be obese. That someone may just feel like the sculpture when they see themselves naked. 

Cleverly, the title applies to the viewer as much as the subject of the piece. Spend time in close proximity to this amorphous wax sculpture and you cannot help but feel. 
Disgust. Shame. Pity. Horror. Sorrow. Confusion. Guilt. Fascination. Revulsion. Any or all may surface.

Portrait of Daniel Lambert,  oil on canvas,
British, 19th Century
iPhone photo of painting displayed

In the 1820s, Englishman Daniel Lambert weighed over 50 stone/320kg, and measured 9 feet 4 inches/2.8m around the waist. 
He made his living by charging 1 shilling to view his bulk.
We don't have human sideshows anymore.
But have perceptions of body beautiful really changed that much?

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.