University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Friday, January 29th 2016
Speaker: Margaret Carlyle, Department of History, University of Minnesota
Subject: From Paris to St. Petersburg: Portable Anatomies in Enlightenment Europe
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 1759, the French surgeon Sauveur-François Morand (1697-1773) was in the final stage of preparing an anatomical collection for transport to the court of Elizabeth of Russia (1709–1762), where it would be dispatched to the Medical Chancery of St. Petersburg. This “Arsenal of Surgery” was four years in the making and comprised custom-made objects fashioned by anatomical modellers, as well as joiners, cutlers, goldsmiths, and sculptors. Shortly before its departure for Russia, Morand presented the collection to members of the Paris Royal Academy of Sciences accompanied by its most remarkable contributor, Mlle Biheron (1719–1795), who demonstrated on her lifesize wax woman. With the Academy’s stamp of approval for his scheme, Morand issued a Catalogue with the royal printer detailing the Arsenal’s contents and the intricacies of trafficking anatomical knowledge.

This talk situates the ultimately failed attempt to transmit the Arsenal from Paris to St. Petersburg within the broader context of Mlle Biheron’s three decades in the business of modeling anatomical waxworks. We discuss Morand’s project alongside the second attempt by philosophe Diderot (1713–1784) to bring Biheron’s wares to Russia, as well her independently arranged exhibitions in London. We see how forms of royal patronage, as well as the creative roles of medical intermediaries and experts, were a central feature of attempts to circulate scientific knowledge in the form of object lessons. It follows that the quality of what we call ‘portability’ conferred increasing prestige both to patrons and clients who participated in the circulation of anatomical hardware, while simultaneously presenting challenges beyond those experienced in more localised forms of knowledge display. By way of conclusion, we demonstrate how the patron-client exchanges characteristic of Enlightenment knowledge production and transfer were replaced by the Revolution’s nationalization of medical education.

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