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Borsheim Art Newsletter:

by Kelly Borsheim copyright 19 April 2007

  1. An Invitation
  2. La Specola Museo - Florence, Italy
  3. New Pencil Drawings
  4. New Gallery - California, Here I Come!
  5. Subscription Info.

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[La Specola Firenze Italia]

Wax Head
"La Specola" museum
in Florence, Italy

Dear Art Lover,

Hello and happy Spring! I am back from Italy now and before I share with you more of what I learned there, allow me to invite you to an Open Studio that I will be hosting here in Texas in mid-May. If you would like a printed invitation, please send me your mailing address if you are not already on my list. Thank you.

La Specola - Florence, Italy

Several of my artist mentors have bragged that artists, not doctors, started the study of human anatomy. Both Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti are known to have studied cadavers to learn more about the workings of the Grand Design. Interesting when you realize that in the time of the Renaissance, it was illegal to 'desecrate' a dead body by this type of scrutinizing - cutting and peering. It is clear by looking at their art, that civilizations even before the Renaissance (Greeks and Egyptians, for example) had observed well the human form. If artists do accurately deserve the credit for this, it could be that we, as a stereotyped group, have insatiable curiosity and are more willing to break the rules than perhaps other professionals.

If you are interested in anatomical studies - for science or artistic reasons - you should head to Florence, Italy. Visit La Specola Zoology Museum, a section of the Natural History Museum of the University of Florence. La Specola is not too far from the famous Pitti Palace. Originally called the Imperial Museum of Physics and Natural History, an astronomical tower was added to the building in 1789 and La Specola, or observatory, became its commonly known name. The tower was gone before a century had passed, but La Specola remains today.

Florence has a long tradition of working with wax for artistic modeling. Although it started with Ludovico Cigoli (1559-1613), it was not until the mid-18th century that a school of ceroplastics was opened to do just such work. (Cero is Italian for wax.) While the museum was officially opened to the public in 1775, physiologist and chemist Abbot Felice Fontana from Rovereto had established the Wax Model Workshop four years earlier to create anatomical wax models.

[la specola museum florence italy]
Above: An unknown species is displayed among other zoological specimens at "La Specola" in Firenze, Italia.

[unicorn bird la specola museum florence italy]
Above: Bird watching takes on a new level with this unicorn bird at "La Specola" museum, Florence, Italy.

[wax anatomy model human la specola museum florence italy]
[wax human anatomy sculpture la specola museum florence italy]
Above: In all truth, these writhing figures freaked me out a bit, reminding me of the horrible lava-frozen figures of Pompeii that I remember from my parents slides of their trip to Vesuvius when I was a child. The reality added at "La Specola" by the glass eyes was a bit much for my taste.

Intended for educational purposes, the collection was begun by dissecting a cadaver. Those pieces were then used to create anatomical models in clay. A plaster mold was made from each clay piece and later filled with wax. This is per The Florentine newspaper (issue 8 February 2007). However, there are undercuts that seem too much for a hard mold, unless there were a lot of assembled pieces. Also, the red and blue veining appears to be solid colored wax, not painted on. Regardless of the manufacturing techniques, the workmanship is excellent. The detail is extraordinary and extremely well crafted

Sig. Fontana was also the museum's first director and greatly expanded the collection. One of these collected artisans, Gaetano Zumbo (1656-1701), created La Specola museum's most important wax anatomical works, having both religious and philosophical meaning. Known worldwide for their accuracy and artistic value, these life-size reproductions appear to be flayed human beings and for that reason, are sometimes difficult to view, no matter how fascinating.

Unfortunately, I arrived late in the day to La Specola and it was less than two hours before they turned the lights off on me. (No language barrier there.) However, a figurative artist must have an understanding of human anatomy and I have included here two of my sketches of flayed forms. One is a drawing from a plaster cast (left). The other is from a life model that I pretended had no skin. It was an exercise to see if I could create an anatomical drawing of what a man looks like under his skin by observing visual clues that his natural form presented to me.

[human anatomy drawing from cast] [flayed model life drawing anatomy]

New Pencil Drawings

It thrills me to no end that Charles Bargue created drawings of classical sculptures (vs. classical 2-dimensional works) in order to teach disegno. I have two more copies of Bargue drawings that I have created since I last wrote to you: The head of the Parthenon horse [left] and the Belvedere (beautiful) Torso, which inspired Michelangelo so much and is currently in the Vatican Museum's collection in Rome.

[Bargue Drawing of Horse sculpture] [Bargue Belvedere Torso drawing anatomy]

New Gallery - California, Here I Come!

Next time you are in Palm Springs, California, USA, say hello to David Crook and his staff at DKC Gay Fine Art. David contacted me recently and he will now offer my work to the California audience. For more information, visit my gallery page.
[Bargue Belvedere Torso drawing study anatomy]
Above: Kelly working to train her eye on shapes and tones.
Photo by Peter McClory.

In closing, thank you for your continued interest. In May, I will share more with you about design (disegno). I enjoy your feedback and friendship.

Thank you for reading.
Kelly Borsheim
19 April 2007

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