Monday 24 September 2018

The Wellcome Collection - Medical marvels, morbidity and more

For a long time I've heard only good things about the Wellcome Collection in London and have long been intending to visit and never quite gotten round to it, so I thought it was about time I corrected this. During a trip to London earlier in the year, I made a point of making my first stop fresh off the train an early evening visit to the Wellcome Collection.

The collection can be easily divided into 2 clear categories; the more modern, scientific area of the white rooms, featuring cross sections of human bodies, nerve and muscle specimen and modern art commenting on modern science and the human body. The other, a temple to all things once cutting edge and scientifically sound. The red room is full of fascinating objects from our medical and personal past.

Prosthetic limbs, saws, syringes, diorama, dildos, models, mummies, good luck charms, skulls, secret pornography, shrunken heads, artwork, masks, ex voto. The room is full of strange decadent items from a whole host of civilizations. The Egyptian, Roman, Chinese, Japanese and everything in between contribute to the collection.

The pieces on display are truly fascinating and I have never seen a collection of medical and morbid memorabilia quite like it. The criteria for inclusion in the collection seems to favour anything featuring a skull (which I wholly approve of of course); candle sticks, paintings, wax works, statues, walking sticks, models and of course, actual skulls. On the whole the collection certainly does justice to our predisposed obsession with death, morbidity and darkness, especially in times past. Many of the exhibits reflect our fascination with decay and the contrast between life and death. While these are sometimes medical, sometimes spiritual, they are nearly always hauntingly beautiful.

One of my favourite pieces, a memento mori waxwork model reminding people of the inescapable inevitability of death stares hauntingly out at passers by as a serpent snakes into an empty eye socket while insects take hold of the decaying corpse. In its time this would have been a grizzly but potent reminder of the inevitable fate of us all, regardless of power or wealth.

Scientifically the collection shows just how much progress we've made since medicine was in its infancy. It showcases some extraordinary examples which remind us just how far we've come in the way of prosthesis, surgery and even mindset in the last 100 years alone.
The collection is a fascinating chance to truly see our understanding and comprehension of disease, death and decay develop over the centuries.

If you have an interest in relics from medical history or are a little morbidly inclined be sure to check out the Wellcome collection on your next visit to the big smoke. More more info visit: I can highly recommend the gift shop, some fantastic books and gifts!