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.