Origin: English Period: Early 20thC Provenance: Unknown Date: c.1910-25 Height: 28.5 inches Width: 16.5 inches
The well rendered plaster cast anatomy of a man, relief moulded as a plaque, showing the écorché musco- skeletal male figure, survives from the first quarter of the twentieth century.
The condition of the plaque is stable and proves fair to good. There are some losses to the extremities and corners though nothing that takes away majorly from the whole. There is a small hairline crack beneath one knee and the figures right hand is lacking (though it can’t be certain that there was one present in the first instance). There is evidence of some later plaster remedial work to the reverse of the plaque to enable a hanging hook to be inserted so the piece can be hung safely.
An écorché is a figure drawn, painted, or sculpted showing the muscles of the body without skin, normally as a figure study for a work, or as an exercise in training. Renaissance architect and theorist, Leon Battista Alberti recommended that when painters intend to depict a nude, they should first arrange the muscles and bones, then depict the overlying skin. Some of the first well known studies of this kind were performed by Leonardo da Vinci. His studies included dissecting the cadaver and creating detailed drawings of the subject. However, there are some accounts of this same practice taking place as far back as ancient Greece, though the specifics are not known. The term écorché, meaning literally "flayed", came into usage via the French Academies (such as the École des Beaux Arts) in the 19th century. This form of study still continues at traditional schools throughout the world. During the Renaissance in Italy, around the 1450 to 1600, the rebirth of classical Greek and Roman characteristics in art led to the studies of the human anatomy. Many painters and artists documented and even performed the dissections themselves by taking careful observations of the human body. Among them were Leonardo da Vinci and Andreas Vesalius, two of the most influential artists in anatomical illustrations. Leonardo da Vinci, in particular, was very detailed in his studies that he was known as the “artist-anatomist” for the creation of a new science and the creative depiction to anatomy.
This plaque is similar to the famous wax figure in William Hunter's collection and also to a plaster plaque in the Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, University of Glasgow. That particular plaque has a label saying "Casts to (presumably) illustrate use of gypsum RUTLEY" and the museum bought the Rutley collection in 1907, and he was active collecting in the late 19th, and early 20th centuries.
The study of anatomical figures became popular among the medical academies across Europe around the 17th and 18th century, especially when there was a lack of bodies available for dissections. Medical students relied on these figures because they provided a good representation of what the anatomical model looks like. The écorché (flayed) figures were made to look like the skin was removed from the body, exposing the muscles and vessels of the model. Some figures were created to strip away the layers of muscles and reveal the skeleton of the model. Écorché figures were commonly made out of many different materials: bronze, ivory, plaster, wax, or wood. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, wax was the most popular use of material in creating écorché statues. The production of colored wax anatomies allowed for a variety of hues and tone that makes the models appear realistic.