Upon doing some research into Eastern European folklore and paganism I came across Vlach Magic which is still practiced in small villages in Serbia. Similar to Voodoo, its a blend of beliefs from the Orthodox Church and ancient pagan traditions. It’s a very secretive and ostracized practice which has been passed down from witch to witch within families. Black Weddings (marriages at funerals between the living and dead), blood, animal sacrifice, black and white magick are an integral part of the Vlach narrative. Vice did and interesting piece on this below.
Mind control, secret cults, prophecy, and murder all surround the infamous advisor to Czar Nicholas II, Grigori Rasputin. The story of Rasputin’s life and gruesome end is murky, but as time progresses more and more details reveal themselves about the true extent of his influence of the Russian aristocracy.
A humble beginning
Grigori Rasputin was born into meager means in Pokrovskoye, Siberia in 1869. His family were peasants surviving through farming and his father’s employment as a government courier. Surprising to most is that Grigori most likely was illiterate up until his later years. Peasant families often were not formally educated. As he grew, Grigori was no stranger to petty crime and known to be a mischievous young man with a checkered past. Much is unknown about his formative years, which has lead to many rumors about his wrong doings which were seemingly precursors to his blasphemes behavior as an adult in the court of the Czar.
Grigori’s transformation came after he was motivated to go on a spiritual pilgrimage at age 28. The pilgrimage was to St. Nicholas Monastery in Verkhoturye, a roughly 421 mile trip. He studied closely with staret Makary and subsequently learned to read and write. Grigori’s time spent at the monastery lasted several months. After returning home, looking disheveled and unkempt, he was a different man without vices. He traveled as a Strannik, or a “holy wanderer”, for years, gathering a small group of dedicated followers.
While still living at home with his parents even in his later years, Rasputin coopted his family’s basement and converted it to a makeshift church. His acolytes would gather here in prayer, sing unfamiliar strange hymns, and even engaged in sexual acts and orgies. One rumor was that Rasputin has begun following the fringe sect of the Russian Orthodox Church, Khlysty.
Khlysty’s root origin comes from the work “Khlyst” which translated to “whip” in Russian. Khlysts believed that instead of worshipping and communicating with the Holy Spirit through priests and holy texts, people could communicate directly with a higher power. One man and women, physical representations of both “Christ” and the “Mother of God”, lead each Khlysty Ark (or group). Ark’s regularly practiced self flagellation and the attainment of divine grace through sinful means, such as sexual orgies. This group was often persecuted and largely disavowed by church officials.
Later in life Rasputin seemingly continued the practices from this group with his followers and even his wife. Attempting to obtain redemption in the eyes of the Holy Spirit through sin, he was accused by many women of rape and assault.
At one time Rasputin had been caught violently beating his wife while she held on to his manhood, shouting: “I am your ewe, and you are Christ.” It had also been reported that the virgins that he had laid with had locks of their hair cut off. Evidence of hair was found in 1977 when authorities uncovered boxes containing hair in his garden. – Rasputin: Satanic Interpretations Versus Modern Interpretations by Simran Singh
Some of Rasputin’s occult aura may have derived from his abuse of Tantra. Tantra is a sexual energy used to align with the divine which can be misused if combined with desire. If this occurs, a devil resides in the person causing a split personality one of which would harm others. Could this be where he gained his power?
Rise to power
Rasputin’s true infamy and power came through his charisma and influence. In the early 1900s, Grigori Rasputin became well known in monastic circles as a holy man with great powers. This eventually lead to his journey to St Petersburg, during which time he befriended many in the Russian court and aristocracy. This lead him to the Czar in 1905. Rasputin’s influence over the royal family only grew from there. His acted as spiritual guide, healer, and even political advisor to Nicholas II and the Czarina, Alexandra.
One instance that solidified Rasputin’s close bond with the Czarina was the healing of her sick son, Alexei. Alexei was ailed with hemophelia, an affliction which leaves the sufferer with thin blood and the inability for it to clot. In this case, Rasputin was asked to aid in the healing of Alexei after an internal hemorrhage, which could possibly prove fatal. As a known faith healer, Alexandra desperately wrote to Rasputin for guidance.
Rasputin wrote back quickly, telling the Tsarina that “God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.” – Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert Massie
Two days later, Alexei made a full recovery, allowing Rasputin full influence over Alexandra.
The slow descent
But the elite in the Russian court soon grew tired of Rasputin. Referred to as “The Mad Monk”, they viewed him as meddling and immoral. He was even subjected to surveillance, revealed in the “staircase notes”, which detail his many debaucherous behaviors with women, drink, and bribery. These were published widely in newspapers which only fueled the opposition against him.
This tension came to a head during the first World War. While Rasputin was staunchly against war, he did advise the Czar that if he did not personally take charge of the troops and their actions Russia would certainly face military defeat. Bolstered by his advisors words, Nicholas overtook control from his generals and went to the front lines with little experience. Rasputin’s advice provide disastrous.
During the Czar’s time away at war, Rasputin saw an opportunity to gain full control over the aristocracy and government. With Alexandra fully dedicated to Rasputin’s cause, his influence grew to it’s fullest potential. He soon was able to appoint handpicked officials which aligned with his views. Because of these actions, respect for the royal family declined. Alexandra, who was of Anglo-German descent, was even accused of being a German spy. Rasputin’s impact on Russia as a whole was earning him many enemies whose goal was to remove him of power.
One of these enemies was Pyotr Stolypin, the prime minister, who actively appealed to the royal family to remove Rasputin from the court. Once, while engaged in a heated argument, he later stated that Rasputin’s “satanic eyes” had quelled the argument. This was one of the many instances of Rasputin being accused of using hypnosis to bend others’ will towards his own. Stolypin was ironically assassinated soon after.
The final act
In turn, multiple assassination attempts were made against Rasputin’s life, however, the fatal encounter would take place in Moika Palace. Moika Palace was the home of Prince Felix Yusupov. Yusupov, the Grand Duke of Pavlovich, and the politician Vladimir Purishkevich. They would all participate in the final attempt.
Rasputin was lured by the prince to his home and ushered into the basement where he was presented with cakes and wine. Yusupov had laced each with potassium cyanide. After eating some of the cakes, Rasputin seemed unaffected. He then drank the wine. Still, no effect. Frustrated and incredulous to this, Yusupov finally took the Duke’s revolver and shot Rasputin square in the chest multiple times. While laying on the floor, the men took his clothes and one of them put them on and drove to Rasputin’s apartment. This was to give the perception that he had travelled home that night after their meeting.
This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die. – Memoir of Felix Yusupov
Upon returning to Moika Palace, the men returned to the basement to make sure Rasputin was dead. When bending down to take a closer look, Rasputin leapt up and charged the men. He managed to escape upstairs and outside until he was shot in the back and collapsed into a snowbank in the courtyard. He was bundled up, put in the car, and driven to a bridge overlooking the Malaya Nevka river. His body was thrown into the river and later found. His autopsy was rumored to show water in the lungs which could mean he actually died from drowning…not from the numerous attacks against him.
Eerily, Rasputin had previously sent this letter to the Czar shortly before his death.
I write and leave behind me this letter at St. Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1st.
I wish to make known to the Russian people, to Papa, to the Russian Mother and to the children, to the land of Russia, what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, have nothing to fear, remain on your throne and govern, and you, Russian Tsar, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia. But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles, and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood, for twenty-five years they will not wash their hands from my blood. They will leave Russia.
Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigory has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death then no one of your family, that is to say, none of your children or relations will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people…I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living.
Pray, pray, be strong, think of your blessed family.
Many New Yorkers are oblivious to the existence of a mass grave right below their feet. The AOL series “What Remains” did a fantastic episode on the Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York. The crypt in the park holds over 11,500 bodies of POWs from during the American Revolutionary War. Take some time to watch this episode and learn how the abandoned bodies, left to time on the sandy banks of New York City, made their way to be interned in the Fort Greene crypt.
While walking in New Orleans it’s easy to miss the large brick building with the bright red door at the corner of Ursuline and Royal street. In 1902, it would be home to one of the most infamous vampires in the world outside of the Vlad the Impaler. One could even argue Saint Germain far surpassed Vlad in his thirst for blood. In the dark streets of New Orleans, Germain hid in plain sight as an opulent member of the city elite. Jacques had a mysterious and colored past which he conveniently left behind before his voyage to the recently settled New Orleans which would allow him to lure many a soul into his home to their own peril.
While Germain moved into the New Orleans mansion in 1902, oddly enough he was rumored to had been born sometime late in the 17th century. Jacques Saint Germain claimed he was a descendant from Comte (Count) de Saint Germain. Details point to Comte being a prolific alchemist during the 1600s (far before his supposed birth). During the time, society became enamored with alchemy. Alchemy was the sibling to modern day chemistry and involved transforming matter into various materials, specifically base metals into gold. Another goal of the alchemist was the search for the Philosopher’s Stone; a stone that grants the wielder immortality. Many believed Comte was the holder of this stone. Supporting this theory, Jacques looked hauntingly familiar to his supposed ancestor.
The Undying Time Traveler
But if Saint Germaine was born in the late 17th century, why did people believe he was immortal? Well, sightings of the Count can be traced all the way back to the wedding at Cana during the time of Jesus Christ. Imagine being a witness to infamous water turned to wine transmutation! He may have also been present for the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D..
Regardless of rumored history, a handful of notable historical figures spoke regularly about a character eerily similar to the Count; these included Voltaire, Casanova, King Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Franz Anton Mesmer, the father of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. To add to the err of mystery, New Orleans residents commented on the uncanny resemblance between the two and even started believing that Jacques could be Comte himself, ageless and immortal (an accusation Jacques would neither confirm nor deny).
The first record of his suspected immortality was at a party at the manor of Madame de Pompadour, then mistress of King Louis XV of France. The year was 1760 and a confused Countess von Gregory approached the man, thinking it was the son of the man she knew in 1710, whom she knew to be the Count de Saint-Germain also. On approach she discovered it was the same man who didn’t seem to have aged a day in the fifty years that had passed. It is noted that the Comte didn’t even deny that it was him, or play himself off as the son. It is even said that he joked with the Countess that he was indeed over 100 years old. – Mardi Gras: Celebrate New Orleans with Vampires, Parajunkee
There is a record of Comte’s death in 1784, however, he continued to be sighted across Europe. Each sighting he was reported to never appear a day over 45 years old, despite pushing at least a century and a half.
The Mysterious Stranger of Royal St
Why Saint Germain traveled to New Orleans is anyone’s guess, but when he arrived, he arrived with a bang. Upon moving into the home at Ursulines and Royal street, he threw a lavish party to essentially announce his arrival. Jacques had a mysterious past but it didn’t matter to the local elite since he was one of the wealthiest and cultured people in the city. He was charismatic, spoke numerous languages, and told engrossing tall tales of adventure. These parties became a regular occurrence for the new debutant. Despite never eating any of the food provided, and only drinking what appeared to be red wine, the public took to the charismatic new character of the French Quarter. But Jacques’ time in the Big Easy would be short lived.
A Bloody Turn
It wouldn’t be the rumors of his past history that would plagued Saint Germain in the end. Instead, it only took one jarring incident to truly immortalize the vampire of New Orleans.
During one of his extravagant parties, a young woman somehow coerced into a secluded area of the mansion, found herself exploring the luxe room. With her back to Saint Germaine, she was unaware of his intentions. She spun around to see him charge at her with alarming speed and ferocity. Upon pinning her to the wall he began biting into her neck, drawing blood.
Party goers looking to find their host ventured to the room and began pounding on the door, coaxing Jacques to come out and join the rest of the party. This startled Jacques and allowed for the woman to get away. Not seeing any other mode of escaping her attacker, she eyed a window leading out to a balcony, which she threw herself out of. Upon hitting the street she had broken bones in her feet and legs and cried out for help. Police arrived and the woman taken to the hospital. The explanation from Jacques? She was just drunk.
The police, not taking this justification at face value, told Saint Germain they would need him at the station first thing in the morning. Because all criminals should be allowed to get a good night’s rest, right? Morning came and Saint Germain was not at the station. The police immediately went to his home only to find that not only was Jacques Saint Germain no longer in the residence, neither were any of his belongings. Out of some of the trivial trinkets left behind police found no food, utensils to eat with, or any evidence of someone who consumed any sort of food. There was one macabre memento left behind; Saint Germain’s many bottles of red wine which upon taste were found to be partially mixed with blood. Upon further inspection police found rooms covered in blood stains, each seemingly having occurred at different points in time.
A bloody and violent history left behind, no one could ever track down the vampire of New Orleans, Jacques Saint Germain.
A couple of weeks ago while running errands I found myself driving some backroads I don’t take on my normal route. Out in Montopolis, southeast of the center Austin, TX, I passed some unconventional cemetery gates which framed some severely overgrown grounds. Remnants of last year’s Dia De Los Muertos still apparent from the dried marigolds strewn from it’s gate. I had to find out more about San Jose Cementerio.
Contributing to the death positive movement
After reading The Order of the Good Death’s, The Year of Action Resource Guide post earlier this year, I’ve been yearning to find a way I could contribute to the death positivity movement. But how could I do that? I can’t be a funeral director. Mortician? Death doula? Too much of a learning curve and emotional weight. One item stood out to me – cemetery preservation. This was something that didn’t involve working directly with the grieving or dying, which is an area I’m very hesitant to go into. Nothing like the gung ho death positivity girl blundering her way through comforting the grieving. I’m humble enough to know I’m in no position to provide guidance in such a trying time. While I have an interest in mortuary science, I tend to find myself gravitating more towards the historical aspects of death and culture. I was surprised I had never thought about this route before.
I begin reading through the resources provided which included the following:
- Saving Graves
- National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- Chicora Foundation
- Find A Grave
Saving Graves was particularly rich with helpful information surrounding the art of cemetery preservation and the best path forward if you want to form a coalition to help work on a local graveyard. However, I found none of these resources really lead me to where I could find resources on a local level. There was a registry of endangered gravesites but there was only one listing for Austin, TX. That couldn’t be right, could it? So I stalled out a bit.
But ask and ye shall receive! My drive back San Jose immediately presented my with an opportunity. I went home and googled it to see what other historical information I could find. I could only find one website, The Austin Genealogical Society, and one video, which had some helpful information. With the discovery of The Austin Genealogical Society’s website I uncovered a whole list of endangered graveyards! I was also able to find the Save Austin’s Cemeteries group which regularly holds events to document gravesites, clean the grounds, and repair stones. San Jose was the key to unlocking this information.
…I found none of these resources really lead me to where I could find resources on a local level…San Jose was the key to unlocking this information.
The history of San Jose Cementerio
Here’s what I uncovered about this graveyard’s history. The site is actually abandoned and has no formal caretakers. It’s flanked by two churches but neither are affiliated with the cemetery. While the gates you see in the photo above appear to be the main entrance to the site, the original entrance remains in the northeast corner. You can still see the cement pillars with deteriorating decorative gates. It features a variety of grave marker and headstone styes – wooden crosses, cement stones with handcarved names and dates, tile decorated stones, to only funeral home markers. One of the most elaborate are the two gated family plots by the large oak tree which are encased by large ornate iron gates in the shape of stars.
There is no uniformity to the graves in terms of rows, which direction they face or even era. Most of the marked graves seem to date from the late 1800s to the 1950s. However, it’s clear there are many unmarked graves here due to the sunken uneven ground and misaligned stones. Many stones I came across were broken and barely visible. It’s easy to imagine other graves simply vanishing after a decade with no one even aware they existed.
Surrounding the people buried here and the history of the site, it’s one of many unclaimed Travis county cemeteries which is home to the early Mexican Americans in the area. If you can imagine this area was previously surrounded by fields filled with crops in a rural location. Currently it’s surrounded by homes, busy highways, and Mexican mom and pop shops. The areas was a popular spot for newly migrated Mexican Americans and became a vibrant spot for Mexican culture.
From its beginning the cemetery maintained a policy of free burial for any person of Mexican descent. The founders made a point of providing space, coffin, and religious rites for the burial of any Mexican transient that died in the area, claiming the bodies from the City of Austin to ensure appropriate burial. – San Jose Cemetery, Austin Central Library
Because of this policy, the grounds filled quickly, was expanded and even then, again, was filled. With no records of the burials or plot locations, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see multiple graves stacked one atop the other. This would also contribute to the uneven grounds and sparsely marked graves.
The grounds were originally founded by the Union Fraternal Mexicana in 1919. Thereafter, it received regular care up to the late 50’s but has sat in a general state of disrepair since then. Community members and state historical commissions contribute when able but there is no one responsible party. San Jose sits on it’s own.
Exploration and understanding
Upon my visit, I pulled up to the western side of the cemetery on Richardson Lane. I parked my care and began the trek into the grounds. While making my way in I noticed a neighbor by his fence peering my way, watching me probably assuming this goth girl is going to do something weird. Nevertheless, I continued.
I immediately noticed the grounds had it’s grass moved since my original drive by the site. I was prepared for at least knee high weeds and overgrowth. But who was tending to this? Perhaps an ally in my quest? A mystery to be solved! Upon further exploration I noticed the bizarre spacing of the stones. There were no rows and no general direction they were facing. It was a hodge podge of graves and markers. Nothing was uniform.
The most depressing observation was the state of the headstones and markers. Only a few remain standing with names and dates visible. Many lay broken in half or completely gone with just a base remaining. It broke my heart to see all of these people’s last remaining mark on earth just forgotten about. In Mexican culture its told once you’re forgotten by the living you truly die. Knowing this it made my exploration even more sombre.
But amongst this sad backdrop were some truly majestic moments of beauty and grandeur. The most obvious is the beautiful oak tree in the center of the site, which can be seen at the top of this post. This thing is massive. If you’ve ever been down to Texas you know how amazing this type of tree can be. The canopy probably had a radius of around 30 feet. When you walk underneath it feels like you’re under mother nature’s outstretched arms and she’s protecting you while also embracing you. Every crackle of the branches in the breeze, tumbling leaf, and crunch under your feet makes you keenly aware of it’s life amidst a sea of the dead. Another equisite tree was found on the eastern side of the yard, old and gnarly, in stark contrast to the perfection of the live oak.
A personal connection and mystery solved
As I concluded my exploration, I made my way back to my car on the west side of the yard. As I approached my car, I noticed the same suspicious neighbor eyeing me. I figured rather than hop in my car and drive away I’d introduce myself and ask a few questions.
I made my way over to the older gentleman, looking to be in his late 50s, and explained the reasoning for my walk around the cemetery. His sister and mother sat on the front porch of the house on a porch swing, looking onward. The yard was a sea of Texas bluebonnets. He explained that his family has lived in the same house for generations, with his mother growing up in the home. This meant that he was extremely familiar with the history of the cemetery across the street. He mentioned how when he and his siblings were younger they would play in the graveyard and even buried a few pets on the grounds.
Another tidbit of information he shared solved the mystery as to who was tending to the site. He pointed me in the direction of a couple up the street who have been extremely passionate about the care of San Jose. The husband, who receives no payment for his services, makes it a point to drive his riding mower down to the site to do his part in keeping the grounds manageable. While not perfect, and still considered overgrown, you have to truly appreciate this couple’s sense of duty and responsibility. I can’t imagine the scope of the job to clean up the entire site.
At the end of the conversation, he asked if I had seen “the man” in the cemetery. The man?! Immediately I was ecstatic. Not only did I find a graveyard with some history, but potentially some ghost stories? He quickly dispelled that myth by telling me there’s a homeless man who likes to stay under the large oak tree. He cautioned me about wandering alone in the area. As a girl from a rural area in New England, I never paid a thought to this and realized I probably need to be more cautious in my exploration. With that, I hopped back in my car looking forward to more time I could spend with San Jose Cementerio.
Over the centuries, the folklore surrounding The Hand of Glory was passed down between generations as an extremely powerful token. The Hand of Glory, or main de gloire, is a severed human hand from the body of a hanged man. Carrying mystical powers, stories tell of it being a prized possession of thieves and criminals for it’s potent powers. Accounts vary surrounding it’s actual capabilities and ways to absolve yourself of it’s wrath, but it remains one of the most intriguing stories of the magical and the macabre.
Crafting the Occult
The process for crafting a Hand of Glory was very precise and doesn’t vary too much across folklore. It was either the left hand or the hand which committed a nefarious act they were found guilty of. The left hand was often viewed as the unlucky or evil hand. Sinistra, the Latin word, originally for “left”, took on darker connotations and soon became used to describe sinister acts. Sorry all you lefties! Ideally it was removed during a lunar eclipse or at least during the night.
The hand was dried and pickled once the body was cut down from the gallows. Pickling consisted of first draining the hand of all blood then positioning the fingers. Most imagery depicts the hand as standing vertical in a natural pose but there were instances where the palm was laid flat and the fingers bent back at a 90 degree angle to be used as candles. It was then treated with a pickling solution, wrapped, and set to cure for 2 weeks. Once unwrapped it would be allowed to dry then the wax added to the fingers. Often the wax was made from the fat of the hanged man, along with wicks made of their hair. These were placed at the tips of the fingers to be lit.
Roots of the Mandrogore
The history of the hand dates back to medieval times and can be seen as early as the 16th century in texts. In general, we can see a similar thread woven throughout the folklore – the hand of a deadman has always had mystical powers.
The hand’s roots, no pun intended, can be traced back to the French phrase Main de Glorie; a moniker for the Mandrake root. The word mandrogore, the French version of mandrake, bares a striking resemblance to Main de Glorie. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see how closely the two are related. Also contributing to the lore surrounding the hand was the belief that the plant grew from the seeds of a hanged man below the gallows and would even emit a glow during the night. They also looked eerily like human hands.
Earliest references to the legend of the mandrogore were present during the 15th century but the story seems to have transitioned to the hand sometime between then and the 16th century.
Swiss Army Knife of the Supernatural
Where this story varies greatly are the actual perceived powers of the Hand of Glory. Some of the more common stories told of the hand involve it’s ability to render anyone in it’s presence immobile or to fall into a deep sleep. It can also unlock any door encountered as well as glow bright when near treasure. It’s flames are nearly impossible to extinguish once lit in some stories. The most gruesome source of this everlasting light is from German folklore which refer to the hands as “thief’s lights”. When the fingers are procured from a pregnant hanged thief’s unborn child, cut off with the hangman’s axe it becomes almost invincible.
Gall of the Black Cat
As I mentioned above, some versions of the hand were seemingly inextinguishable; but there are some methods rumored to render the hand ineffective.
The only known way to extinguish the flames was with sterilized milk. An easier solution was to prevent even encountering the hand by preventing it from even entering your home. Simply rub your doors and windows with the gall of a black cat, the fat of a white hen, and the blood of a screech owl. All simple things to find, right? The door must be anointed during what’s referred to as the dog days of summer. This is a period from July 3rd to August 11th during with the dog star, Sirius, ascends to the sky.
A lot of people wonder if these legends were reality. Would people really go to such lengths to have such rumored power? The simple answer is yes. Up to recently the last physical Hand of Glory could be seen in the Whitby Museum. Perhaps we doubt the hand’s power since it’s too macabre of a concept to dare to attempt. What do you think would happen if you lit those fingers?
Made of wax, the anatomical venus is a striking resemblance to a living, breathing woman. Her skin has a translucency. Her real human hair long and flowing. And all of her internal organs sit perfectly in her torso ready to be taken out and placed back in. Known alternatively as “Slashes Beauties” or “Dissected Graces”, the masses at the time became enamored with her.
Science and Artistry
The period, referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, focused on a shift away from the concepts of absolute monarchies, concentrated power, and the hoarding of information to free thinking, science, and philosophy. The first Anatomical Venus was commissioned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold II in 1780. Leopold, who aimed to blend both the decadent artistry of the past with the instructive, scientific focus of the Enlightenment, hoped this model would intrigue others to learn more about the human body’s inner workings. By allowing for medical practitioners, artists, and the general public to have this incredibly accessible representation of the human body, perhaps the need for human dissection would be eliminated altogether.
“It is interesting to consider that the body – its nuts and bolts, the raw mechanics of it – had by this point long been considered a proper subject for artists. Leonardo da Vinci had dissected more than 100 bodies himself earlier that century, and a younger artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti, accepted a commission from a church for which he was paid in corpses.” Zoe Williams, Cadavers in pearls: meet the Anatomical Venus
The artist commissioned would be Clemente Susini, a sculptor from Florence who studied at the Royal Gallery. The initial Anatomical Venus impressed Leopold so much that he requested an entire set of similarly dissectible models. The first model can be seen in La Specola in Italy – the Natural History Museum. In all, Susini created close to 2,000 anatomic models before his death in 1814.
How to make death palatable
Part of the struggle when it came to teaching anatomy was the simple fact that you couldn’t learn much if you weren’t dealing with a real corpse. How could an artist make the dissection of a human post-mortem acceptable and even intriguing to the public? Simple – make the corpse that of a beautiful woman.
Reclined on a bed, each model was a young women, neck exposed with a look of ecstasy on their face. While one can take a deep skeptical look at the undertones here surrounding violence against women, the public in the day were drawn to Venus like a moth to the flame. It does seem incredibly strange and startling to be removing the 7 anatomically perfect and interlocking organs from such a stark contrast to the cadavers of the past.
The Anatomical Venus forces us to confront a lot of feelings surrounding the human condition – how life and death should be depicted. Should beauty be completely separate from death? Are we uncomfortable with her because of this juxtaposition? Reflecting on the time in which she was created, was the fascination with her macabre and almost fetishized or genuine curiosity and fascination in the medical insight she had to offer? There are many interpretations, but the fact that she remains a fascinating part of human history and enlightenment speaks to her true magnetism.
What are your thoughts on the Anatomical Venus?