Illustration of two human bodies with pointy years, webbed feet, and mermaid tails floating on water against a purple background
On View


Special Exhibition

March 1, 2017 – October 1, 2019

Using artifacts from The Historical Medical Library and Mütter Museum collections, this exhibition examined the shifting perceptions about abnormal human development, from fear and wonder to curiosity and clinical science.

Imperfecta introduced the subject of teratology with a look at prodigy books. The early modern concept of monster is explored through these contemporary texts, which illustrate the beliefs behind perceived supernatural and natural causes of physical anomalies.

Over time, curiosity about imperfect bodies led to the science of embryology. Modern medicine has proven that genetic mutations and exposure to toxins are to blame for abnormal births, not divine influence. However, simply because a condition such as abnormal human development has been studied and classified by medical science, that does not mean that it cannot touch the deepest part of our psyche, making us question what it means to be imperfect.

Learn more about the themes and issues explored in this exhibition with our digital companion exhibit, Further into Imperfecta