Sculpting Anatomy

<i>Medici Venus</i>, Clemente Susini, 1782

Medici Venus, Clemente Susini, 1782

The use of wax for replicating skin, flesh and the complexities of anatomical structures dates back several centuries; its flesh-like translucency makes it the material of choice for depictions of the human body.

Associate Artist Eleanor Crook teaches students on a Selected Study Module at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. In addition, she regularly offers workshops as part of our Public Events programme.

Participants learn about the gross anatomy of the head and neck by demonstrating the techniques of wax modelling. Eleanor uses a selection of coloured waxes to sculpt the anatomy of the head and neck over a model skull and initiates students into the art of manipulating different textures of wax into fine anatomical structures — tendons, veins, skin.

‘The technique of wax anatomy modelling has a long historical pedigree but there is almost no published material on how it was done. I greatly enjoy sharing this hidden art and its startling history (with new knowledge since I have now been working in conserving some historical wax models in Italy).  It is intriguing to see how participants interpret what they learn and stamp their own personality on thier sculptures. 3D is the way to go in teaching facial anatomy as no other kind of image can express the layered structure of what lies over the skull or so clearly explain how the muscles work together to produce facial expression. You will really get a tactile feel for the relationship between hard and soft tissues. The biggest challenge is making the eyelids “belong” to the harder eyeball beneath, and the soft wax modelled over the harder cornea then arranged with fine tools gives a haptic lesson in how the body is really constructed.’

Eleanor Crook

Eleanor trained in sculpture at Central St Martins and the Royal Academy, and makes figures and effigies in wax, carved wood and lifelike media. She has also made a special study of anatomy and has sculpted anatomical and pathological waxworks for the Gordon Museum of Pathology at Guy’s Hospital, London’s Science Museum, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England. She learned the technique of forensic facial reconstruction modelling from Richard Neave and has demonstrated and taught this to artists, forensic anthropology students, law enforcement officers and plastic surgeons, as well as incorporating this practice in her own sculpted people.