Madame Tussaud’s Eerie Army of Wax
Wax sculptures have a morbid and varied history. Although a specific date of its first use is hard to agree upon, when wax was initially used for the purpose of lifelike depiction, it was in the form of an effigy or death mask.
The Art of Faking Life
As gruesome as death masks sound, they actually served a very noble purpose: as a lasting impression of the recently deceased. Death masks were occasionally used for the creation of molds or plaster casts, which were then used to bring us eerie but beautiful artifacts such as King Tut’s golden mask. They also served a much more unsettling purpose in the field of science and forensics. More often made from plaster, these masks were used for the identification of unclaimed bodies.
Effigies on the other hand, were primarily used for funeral services and were commonly made in remembrance of monarchs and other important political figures. The tradition of displaying an effigy is said to have originated with the Romans and later adopted by most of Medieval Europe. These wax creations would often be paraded, fully dressed, in front of the tombs of those they belonged to.
The least discussed and scariest use of wax sculptures is Moulage, a process dating back to the Renaissance, in which wax figures with simulated diseases were used for anatomical dissection. Similar to its original usage, modern Moulage is the process of casting the infected/injured areas of a human subject, to later be applied to healthy body. Commonly used in military and ERT training, this morbid practice once again proves that our fascination with the gruesome has plenty of noble applications.
The Gruesome Sculptress
Marie Tussaud (of Wax Museum fame) created her first wax sculpture in 1777. It is mentioned in some of her writing that during the French Revolution, she would make death masks of the severed heads she would find while searching through the corpses of the executed. When Madame Tussaud eventually opened her own museum of wax creations in 1835, one of her initial exhibits featured the famous likenesses of many criminals and murderers.
Madame Tussauds has become a worldwide tourist attraction since her “humble” beginnings. Regardless of what city you end up in, her legacy has probably landed there first, leaving behind terrifying likenesses of your favorite movie stars. Numerous major cities across the world have their own branch of the famous wax museum, including Bangkok, Berlin, Sydney, and Washington D.C, bringing these unnerving wax creations closer to home. The craft itself has improved more and more as the years go by, with middling results, begging the question:
Are realistic figures the goal?
Something tells me it really, REALLY isn’t. You’ll find my evidence in the following pages. Enjoy(?)
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