The death masks of executed criminals Ned Kelly, Dan Morgan, Franz Muller, John Weechurch, and Edward Pritchard are arguably the most well-known objects within the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at the University of Melbourne. Displayed in bays along the external wall of the museum’s exhibition space, the plaster casts of the faces and heads of the deceased are certainly the most publicly accessible objects of the otherwise restricted-entry institution. Previously, the masks have been displayed in a minimalist fashion, alongside biographical information for the individual represented. However, recent research has engendered a more in-depth presentation of the masks which illuminates the cultural contexts of their creation and interpretation over time and their significance today, particularly in relation to the broader function of the Harry Brookes Allen Museum itself.
Within the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology collection at The University of Melbourne are seventeen plaster anatomical models from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Remnants from the first years of the Department of Anatomy, the diverse collection comprises professional work, homemade productions and half finished experiments. Relegated to the basement store, the history of the models, having existed as simply teaching apparatus remained an enigma. Without related documentation in university records, a factor indeed consistent with many plaster anatomical collections worldwide, the models provide a tantalisingly obscured view of medicine’s past.
This is history shaped upon the two certainties, the models and the university. Where precise historical detail is unavailable, comparative sources relevant to the greater context have been applied. Thus, a story of anatomical models at The University of Melbourne also becomes one of their greater use in the development of modern medicine.
Artists and anatomists cooperated from the sixteenth century through to the nineteenth century to produce books and later models which illustrated the new encounter with human anatomy. The style of many of the illustrations reflected the art practices of the period in which they were produced. Wax anatomical models adopted some of the same artistic conventions as illustration to familiarise the eighteenth century audience with anatomy. These models, which were initially closely linked to the practice of dissection were adapted for different audiences before being overtaken by new technology at the end of the nineteenth century. This thesis uses as examples some of the models in the Harry Brookes Allen Museum in the medical department of the University of Melbourne to illustrate the historical progression of wax anatomical models.