Doctor Made Art From Stillborn Fetuses, Which Is Now in a Russian Collection

A 17th century physician made artful dioramas out of human parts, including fetuses.

Amsterdam, 1744. Etching with engraving. by Frederick Ruysch. National Library of Medicine.

If you think the Dutch are too permissive now … they used to be totally cool with a dude making art with the corpses of dead and still-born babies. You thought your junior high school dioramas were provocative and political? Nope.

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Frederick Ruysch, a 17th century Dutch physician, made art from the disconnected body parts that came into his possession through his trade, according to Smithsonian magazine, looking at research from the National Library of Medicine. Because he often worked with midwives and babies he also had “plenty of access to the bodies of stillborn or deceased babies, [which] he used to create ‘extraordinary multi-specimen scenes.’” Oh, great.

Better still, he didn’t stop with just using dismembered body parts as sculptural artifacts and dressing up dead bodies with lace. He literally made dioramas with the parts and the people. Like if, now, we made mobiles with the desiccated genitals of your pets, or finger-painted only with the blood of the elderly. Also, what did you make a diorama in before there were cardboard shoeboxes?

But we swearrrr that there was some artistic merit to this troubling practice.

Ruysch “was responsible for creating a new aesthetic of anatomical demonstration in Amsterdam,” writes the Library. “In making such displays, he claimed an extraordinary privilege: the right to collect and exhibit human material without the consent of the anatomized.”

Just imagine what artists and physicians alike could do without the pesky consent laws in place today!

Still, despite Ruysch’s upsetting proclivities, his contribution to the science of preserving the human body was notable at the time, researchers said. The use of alcohol and wax injections to keep specimens in useable shape for years helped anatomists learn how the human body is set up. He eventually opened a museum (!) where you could choose your creep-level and either gawk at the dead parts or hear a lecture on anatomy. No word on the scene at the concession stand.

What remained of Ruysch’s morbid collection eventually fell in to Russian hands, where most of it remains today, the magazine said. Thankfully, none of the dioramas have survived to the present day.

Doctor Made Art From Stillborn Fetuses, Which Is Now in a Russian Collection