Accession Number: 9201-9301
Year: Before 1882
Material: wax, wood
This realistic collection of painful-looking eyes is among the more startling objects in the Mütter’s collection. Depicting a series of 20 different eye diseases and conditions in modeled wax, these handcrafted, tinted models must have been a vivid and memorable teaching tool for medical students and physicians learning how to diagnose eye conditions.
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Though some of these models depict unusually dramatic cases of eye disease, others show more common conditions in exacting detail. The fourth eye in the bottom row is surrounded by a blue-tinted bruise and has a hemorrhage in the eyeball. Most likely caused by an injury, this typical “black” (or blue) eye is likely to heal on its own. To its right, the last eye in the set shows common warts, or verrucae, growing on an eyelid.
Cases more advanced than most physicians could expect to see in a lifetime are also depicted. The extra-large model, third from left in the top row, shows an eye socket completely destroyed by cancer, while the specimen to its right illustrates an eyeball pushed out of its socket by a large polyp that has grown in the nasal cavity. The first model in the top row also shows an eye polyp growing in the maxillary sinus behind the eye: a case this advanced might impinge on the optic nerve and cause vision problems.
The Mütter purchased these models from the prestigious Paris firm of Maison Tramond in 1882. Such anatomical models were highly valued for their realism, durability, and craftsmanship. They were not just for medical training; some were exhibited to the general public. Wax models were more expensive than anatomical models made of terracotta, papier-mâché, wood, and other materials, but their lifelike artistry gives them a particular emotional impact.