The Interactive Ivory Women of Early Modern Germany

Cali Buckley, estudiante de doctorado en historia del arte en la Penn State University y actualmente becaria Fulbright en la Friedrich-Alexander University, de Nuremberg, nos ofrece esta presentación de su proyecto de investigación sobre estas marfileñas “mujeres interactivas”:


When one considers anatomical models, they often think of highly accurate colored waxes or body parts stored in jars. It is largely in history museums, libraries, and private collections where a different kind of anatomical model is displayed—the ivory anatomical manikin.

She is very small—rarely much larger than the length of a hand. She is depicted with eyes closed, head resting on lacy ivory pillow and body stretched across a cloth-covered wooden bed. One arm lies at her side and the other on her distended stomach. Both can be lifted upward, one above the head and the other with the wrist touching the forehead as if in a state of distress. Her breasts and belly form a lid which, upon opening, reveals her insides. First to appear are her lungs, heart, diaphragm, and intestines. Once these pieces are removed, the viewer can see further inside, where the stomach, liver, bladder, kidneys, and womb reside. The uterus itself has a thin ivory cover that can be taken off to divulge a tiny fetus, still attached to his mother by a red silk umbilical cord.

To modern eyes such an object seems simple and strange, but it was made for a time long before ours. These manikins were originally crafted by the ivory carver Stephan Zick in Nuremberg. He had a keen attraction to anatomy and knew how to create turned as well as hand-carved ivories. He melded these interests by producing highly intricate eye and ear models, but ultimately fabricated a number of full-figure anatomical models as well—a majority of them of pregnant women. There are some men, but most were created as a pendant to the female.

Zick’s innovation was likely influenced by the increase of physicians and “man-midwives” working in women’s medicine—a field previously dominated by female midwives without academic training. The man-midwife Francois Mauriceau inscribed on the back of his manikin: “for the diseases befalling pregnant women and those in the birthing bed.” The surgeon Jusef Fuardi wrote of his wax copy of a manikin: “He was ashamed that his pupils in surgery should not be better taught, and he created this for the purpose described in the above lines.” The ‘above lines’ contain a monologue, seemingly by the manikin herself, addressed to pupils of surgery and saying that she is meant to help them curtail the suffering of women. (for the full translation from French, see C. J. S. Thompson, “Anatomical Manikins,” Journal of Anatomy 59.4 (July, 1925): 442–447.)

Of the roughly 175 manikins that exist today, we can link a number of them to man-midwives or families of doctors. We can assume that these models were indeed employed by doctors, but it is difficult to discern how. Ivory manikins are minute, complex, expensive, yet inexact objects. Their use only makes sense in terms of their historical context.

The man-midwife of the seventeenth century likely owned a number of objects in ivory—anything from the handles of scalpels and saws to decorative objects such as skulls or memento mori—which displayed his wealth. The female ivory manikin could be both a tool and an objet d’art: she could be displayed passively or used as a prop in lectures to students. For the latter, she need not be explanatory—she acts as a medium to direct attention as the physician presents his ideas and extrapolates upon her parts.

These objects may have been an early modern fad, but their use remains a testament to the ways in which the history of art and science intersect by social, political, and commercial means.

Link to blog:

DUKE.P1050988 2

Todas las fotografías son de Cali Buckley y proceden de la Trent Collection, en la Rubenstein Library de la Duke University.

2 comentarios en “The Interactive Ivory Women of Early Modern Germany

  1. Pingback: Blog Post for Anatomías Urbanas | ivoryladies

  2. Pingback: An Addition to Atlas Obscura’s Manikin Video – ivoryladies


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