Anatomy: A Matter of Death and Life

Looking at Edinburgh’s role as an international centre for medical study, the exhibition will offer insight into the links between science and crime in the early 19th century.

Starts: 2 July 2022 Ends: 30 October 2022

Explore the history of anatomical study, from artistic explorations by Leonardo da Vinci to the Burke and Hare murders.

Charting 500 years of medical exploration, the exhibition considers the social and medical history surrounding the dissection of human bodies. Discover the role anatomy played in the Enlightenment, uncover the links between science and crime in the early 19th century, and consider approaches to anatomical study today.

In the 18th century, Edinburgh developed into the UK’s leading centre for medical teaching and the demand for human bodies to dissect vastly outstripped legitimate supply. The exhibition examines the circumstances that gave rise to the Burke and Hare murders in 1828, and explores the changing practices and attitudes around body provision in the two centuries that followed.

History and science collide in this fascinating story. See exquisite early examples of anatomical art, a full-body papier-mâché model produced in the workshops of pioneering 19th century model maker Louis Auzoux, and William Burke’s skeleton and handwritten confession. National Museums Scotland’s own collections on display include a ‘mort safe’, a heavy iron box placed over a coffin to deter would-be body snatchers, and the Arthur's Seat miniature coffins.


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