James Legg at the Museum of London
2 October 2012
Conservation and installation of cast of executed criminal, James Legg for October's Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition
In 18th century England, new hands-on methods for the study and teaching of anatomy were introduced. This modern approach became increasingly popular in the early 19th century but the only legal source of corpses were those of executed murderers – demand far exceeded supply. And so emerged a gruesome trade. In London, gangs of bodysnatchers, also known as resurrection men, stole corpses from the capital’s cemeteries to sell to the knowledge-hungry surgeon-anatomists.
However, the surgeons were not the only people interested in dead bodies. Anatomy classes were also offered at the Royal Academy of Arts, and many artists forged relationships with surgeon-anatomists.
In 1801, sculptor Thomas Bank and artists Benjamin West and Richard Crossway set out to show that most depictions of the Crucifixion were anatomically incorrect. With the assistance of Joseph Constantine Carpue, a well-known surgeon, they acquired the body of James Legg, a captain from the Chelsea Hospital who was hung for killing a fellow Pensioner.
The body was taken from the gallows and nailed into position before being taken to Carpue’s anatomy school where it was flayed to remove all skin. It was the cast in plaster by Banks.
Curator of Human Osteology at the Museum of London, Jelena Bekvalac said: “It is a privilege to have the James Legg cast on display as part of Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men. Looking at James is an absorbing and poignant experience and I am certain visitors will be struck by his presence in the exhibition. James underlines our continued fascination with all things anatomical.”
The James Legg cast will be on display as part of Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men which opens to the public on 19 October 2012. The exhibition reveals a fascinating and important period in the capital’s history and its legacy for medical practice and ethics today. Book online now or call 020 7001 9844. Tickets cost £9 for adults, concessions available.
Notes to editors
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