Rarely have I wanted to possess a thing as much as I want to possess this thing. It is a talisman of truth, a memento mori (reminder you will die) for the ages.
Pull back the lid from the tiny coffin made of walnut, and out peeks the wide grin of the even tinier wax model of a decomposed body. The unknown craftsman was an Italian living in the late 18th century, and the work was believed to have been made sometime between 1774 and 1800.
Here is the description from the Science Museum London, where the model currently resides.
The body in this wooden coffin is in a severe state of decomposition. It may have had two purposes: as ‘memento mori’, a reminder of death, or as a teaching aid. The figure is surrounded by three frogs. Frogs are symbols of rebirth and regeneration because they change so much in their lifetimes.
Since I will be in London this April, The Science Museum is also where I will be breaking in to steal the model, in a heist based on the precise specs of my favorite childhood film, The Great Muppet Caper. Just try to stop me, Miss. Piggy.
I would say my little precious here is positively medieval (!), but he’s not, really. He’s part of the great Italian wax modeling tradition of the 18th century.
The holy grail motherload of this modeling tradition can be found at La Specola, in Florence. La Specola opened in 1775, which makes it the oldest public museum in Europe. Hint: It makes a wonderful deathstination, for anyone visiting Italy.
The collection of wax models at La Specola were made by observing real corpses. While the models were technically for teaching, there are all sorts of other cultural, sexual, taboo things going on, especially with the famed wax Anatomical Venus.
The Venus is best explained by new Order member Joanna Ebenstein, of the wonderful project Morbid Anatomy.
…this life-sized, dissectible wax woman- -who can still be viewed in her original Venetian glass and rosewood case at La Specola Museum of Zoology and Natural History in Florence, Italy, as well as in a number of other European museums–is adorned with glass eyes and human hair and can be dismembered into dozens of parts revealing, at the final remove a beatific fetus curled in her womb. Her sisters—also anatomical models made under the artistic leadership of Susini, and referred to by such names as “The Slashed Beauty” and “The Dissected Graces” can be visited at a handful of European museums. Supine in their glass boxes, they beckon with a gentle smile or an ecstatic downcast gaze; one idly toys with a plait of real golden human hair; another clutches at the plush, moth-eaten velvet cushions of her case as her torso erupts in a spontaneous, bloodless auto-dissection, another is crowned with a golden tiara, while yet another has a silk ribbon tied in a bow tied around a dangling entrail.
The Venus is also beautiful, with quite impressive removable entrails. But she is life-sized, and will be harder to steal. No, the plan remains intact, the pocket sized corpse & frogs shall be the heist.
Note: The Order does not condone stealing priceless works of Italian wax art from major museums.