Curious Trends


Medical specimens as curiosties

Curious to find out more about the current fascination with medical specimens, I visited the Gordon Museum, the UK’s largest teaching medical museum. The museum isn’t open to the public and is still adding to its collections. The current museum was opened in 1905 and housed in the ivy covered Hodgkin building within the Guys Hospital complex, now towered over by the half-completed ‘Shard of Glass’ development. Here there is a dissecting room and around 8000 specimens of body parts, plus wax models like the ones used in the Body Parts exhibition – except these are 150 years old. The forensic section includes examples of gunshot wounds, new variant TB and legionnaires disease, along with the only collection of HIV Aids specimens in the country. There’s also an extensive collection of medical instruments.

The museum houses a number of very important collections. The Joseph Towne Anatomical and Dermatological wax model collections (convincing enough to get anyone scratching), the Lam Qua painting collection and specimen and artefact collections of leading morbid anatomists and modellers Hodgkin, Addison, Bright and Astley Cooper. In 1825, Thomas Hodgkin, a Quaker, was appointed Demonstrator of Morbid Anatomy and Curator of the museum. As well as discovering a number of pathological conditions, including acute appendicitis and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he also introduced the first stethoscope to Britain, which can also be seen in the museum.

A new Museum of Life Sciences has also been established in the building, to display zoology, plant and pharmaceutical collections in the style of a cabinet of curiosities. This includes one of the only examples of a Thylacinus – the extinct marsupial wolf, which was last seen in 1936.

Plenty more inspiration for young designers like Abi Trotman, of Cardiff School of Art and Design, a multi-media artist, whose fascination with illness and death inspired the following pieces in her latest collection:

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