Before the discovery of x-rays in 1895, the only practical way to see inside the human body was through a dissection.
Cultural and religious beliefs about dissection often made the practice illegal, and even when acceptable, corpses were difficult to obtain. The lack of refrigeration also meant that bodies decayed swiftly! By the early 1800s medical and scientific teaching had expanded and there was an increase in demand for anatomical models due to the lack of corpses.
In the 1820s Louis Auzoux (1797-1880), a French medical graduate made papier-mâché dissectable anatomical models for teaching medicine and anatomy. One advantage over corpses was that they could be taken apart and used again and again. In previous centuries anatomical models were made using wax.
They showed anatomical details very accurately, but were expensive and often lost their shape. Papier-mâché, was easily moulded and sturdy. Auzoux improved upon the early papier-mâché techniques. He developed a secret papier-mâché mixture, which allowed papier-mâché models to harden as a solid, supple, light and durable object.
After a few years, Auzoux’s models became a commercial success and were used by various educational establishments and hospitals.
He also made zoological and botanical models. However teaching by means of anatomical models never proved popular with the medical profession as a substitute for dissecting real bodies.
Auzoux’s models, were designed to be taken to pieces and reassembled, with each part labelled, showing internal anatomy. The chest opens up to reveal the inner organs and the skull can be removed to show the brain.
The colour scheme is a combination of naturalistic and schematic colours that make certain features stand out. Veins and arteries are blue and red, whilst adjoining muscles are different shades of red. Larger models have an internal metal structure to increase stability.
The BDA model is of a male figure, just under five feet tall, and in 25 dissectible parts with over 2000 details. The model was used particularly to show the structure of the jaws and teeth and the role of a healthy body in making healthy teeth. The model illustrates the context of the teeth in terms of the blood and nerve supply around the body.