Auzoux papier-mâché model of a gorilla (left).

Project (2016)

Papier-maché: The Materiality of Anatomical Models and the Gendering of Model Users During the Nineteenth Century

Since the early modern period, artists and anatomists have worked towards the perfection of models of the body in three dimensions. Models in wax, in particular, were celebrated in the eighteenth century for their lifelike appearance. However, such models were fragile and did not allow for the hands-on interaction increasingly called for by medical educators. The nineteenth century saw a solution to this problem, with the development of a type of papier-mâché by the French doctor Auzoux. Around 1820, Auzoux began to develop life-sized human models using a paper-based mixture. The models were sufficiently robust to be taken apart and reassembled; they were produced in series using molds, and exported globally. In this project, I explore aspects of gendering in the production and use of the Auzoux models and other contemporaneous artificial anatomies.

In particular, I want to think about how the materiality of models contributed to the gendering of model users. In a previous paper on eighteenth-century anatomical models made in wax, I investigated how critics of such models used gendering language to discredit models as useless toys rather than suitable tools of public enlightenment, as items indicative of feminine, or at least unmanly, frivolity. The materiality of models was central to this process, as wax was an expensive material associated with fragility, luxury, and dolls. It will therefore be fruitful to investigate how such responses to models and their materiality changed in the nineteenth century when model makers moved to papier-maché, a material celebrated for its robustness and employed for a wide range of products beyond toys, such as furniture and architectural details.