The Human Nervous System, Pressed Like A Flower

[Image: Screen grab from a video produced by the Royal College of Physicians].

While this is not hugely relevant to landscape or architectural design, I was nonetheless floored today by these absolutely gorgeous—and extraordinarily, grotesquely, unsettlingly macabre—objects on display at the Royal College of Physicians in London.

[Image: Screen grab from a video produced by the Royal College of Physicians].

Called “Evelyn tables,” after the man who once purchased them, John Evelyn, they are 17th-century anatomical boards from Padua, Italy, upon which the meticulously dissected human nervous system has been pressed like a flower onto varnished wood.

[Image: Screen grab from a video produced by the Royal College of Physicians].

In fact, one board consists entirely of nerves, another of veins, another of arteries.

They are blood red, black in places as if burnt to a state of antiseptic purity, and intensely, very literally visceral; part of the adhesive process apparently involved the body’s own fluids.

They are the human form taken to some insane, surgical ideal, the Grand Guignol as display technique.

[Image: Screen grab from a video produced by the Royal College of Physicians].

While it is loosely accurate to describe them as flat, they are actually fully three-dimensional, laminated in whorled layers of knots and ropes, with nerves and veins coiling back and forth upon one another and spraying out over the boards like branches and roots, charts and maps.

They are genuinely impressive physical objects, almost sculptures, and they look like some infernal collaboration between novelist Clive Barker, painter Francis Bacon, and, in their pure physicality, like the dense, thickly realized prints of Richard Serra (for example).

They are absolutely worth seeing, if you’re anywhere nearby, although I should note that they are not currently displayed as you see them in these images; they were only placed like that for a short video produced by the Royal College, embedded above, that is also worth a view.

[Image: Smartphone shot in non-ideal lighting conditions].

Alas, the lighting conditions are not ideal for photography, and the boards are sort of shoehorned into a tight gallery on the top floor, but I’ve included a (bad) smartphone shot to give you sense of the insane surreality of these unpeeled and exploded human figures. They are, of course, life-size.

1 thought on “The Human Nervous System, Pressed Like A Flower”

  1. We, too, visited the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in June, 2016! Recently open to the public, it is free. Positioned in front of Lincoln’s Inn Fields (great restaurant/coffee shop) and nearest Underground Station is Holborn. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm. Another treat is Sir Joan Soane’s house/museum straight across the square. Also, free and amazing.

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