Friday, August 24, 2007

Napoleon's Toothbrush

Death Mask, Napoleon, British Museum

Had a few hours to kill today and so took a quick trip around the newly-opened Wellcome Collection on Euston Road. Henry Wellcome, entrepreneur, patron of science and adventurer, was an avid collector of medical ephemera, amassing an extensive collection detailing our universal interest in health and the body over the ages.

The space is set up to house the permanent collection as well as a temporary one, which this time around was heart-themed. In good London museum tradition, the entrance was free and the space somewhat sparsely attended, at least early-on in the day.

The Heart covers matters anatomical, as well as artistic & philosophical, starting with how ancient Egyptians believed that the gods weighed the heart of the newly dead against a feather to see if it would be consumed or the spirit allowed to move ahead with its journey to the after life, right through to modern-day surgical treatments such as transplantation. Well worth a visit, but the squeamish might want to avoid the film of a heart operation if the sight of someone's ribs being cut by a power saw to allow the chest cavity to be opened up doesn't really appeal ...

The permanent collection is an extremely eclectic array of items that at some point took Henry's fancy. Yup, Napoleon's toothbrush is there, as is Nelson's razor. There are shrunken heads and ancient heads with holes in (JR take note!) A torture chair from China looked particularly nasty, as, I have to say, did the collection of early medical instruments, all of which were likely used with little or no anaesthetic.

Alas, unlike the British Museum, no photography is allowed so you'll have to make do with Naopleon's head at a point in his life were toothbrushes were a bit redundant.

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