biographical, textual, and historical origins

Part of the Palgrave Advances book series (PAD)


‘Body Worlds’ is the title of one of the most shocking, controversial, and successful exhibits to be mounted in Europe in recent history, drawing over eight million people during its tour through Austria and Germany before moving on to England (Rapp 2002).1 What has attracted the notoriety and the crowds are the ‘objects’ on display: twenty-five preserved human male and female corpses in various poses, and 150 body parts — torsos, heads, and limbs — all treated with a newly-developed process which replaces bodily fluids with a variety of hardening plastic substances that allows for a variety of body positioning. In the case of the most shocking display, entitled ‘Suit of Skin,’ a flayed male, his bones and blood vessels delineated in white and red plastic, stands upright looking at his raised left hand which holds the actual skin that covered his body. There is a slight smile on the man’s face. Answering charges that such an exhibition is a desecration of the dead and a ghoulish, cynical attempt to provide a sated, contemporary society with yet another grotesque thrill, the inventor of the process and organizer of the exhibit, a professor at the Institute for Plastination at Heidelberg University, argues that his work is, in fact, a continuation of the long tradition of ‘anatomical theatre’ practiced for centuries by surgeons to gain further knowledge of the human body.


Healthy Body Historical Origin Decay Body Distinct Idea Anatomical Theatre 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2004

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