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Philips’ Popular Manikin: Public Anatomy and Gender Stereotypes around 1900

By Simone Schleper

Around 1800, the audience for anatomical knowledge was small and fairly elite. After the Anatomy Act of 1832 had put an end to the murders committed to procure bodies for dissection, the public image of anatomy became significantly less dreadful. In the following decades, popularizers, exhibitors, and publishers found ever more innovative ways to bring anatomy to a broader public.

The golden age of virtual autopsies began when developments in the production of printed images allowed anatomical parts to be displayed in vivid, dramatic colors. In the 1890s, George Philip & Son, originally founded in 1834 in London as a map-making company, first published Philips’ Popular Manikin (Fig. 1) as part of a series of anatomical fold-outs. Three of these fold-outs are held by the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge, England, where I stumbled upon them. Lying in their repository shelves, the fold-outs appear to be little more than the illustrative educational tools their preambles advertise for. Put in their historical context however, the fold-outs are capable of telling a multifaceted story about Victorian public anatomy, science education, and popular conceptions of the human body. This first entry on Philips’ Popular Manikin unmasks the fold-outs as artifacts from a time in which the public understanding of anatomy was largely shaped by gender stereotypes and particular visions of sexuality.[1]

Fig 1

Figure 1

Philips’ anatomical fold-outs

The first edition of Philips’ anatomical series, Philips’ Anatomical Model (1893) (Fig. 2)[2] shows a muscular human figure on the front. Two flaps behind the cover display the muscular system and the skeleton, accompanied by a short explanatory text.[3] The Popular Manikin (Fig. 3), the anatomical fold-out of a male body, and the Anatomical Model of the Human Body (Female) (Fig. 4; Fig. 5) were subsequently added to the programme. Slightly larger in format, the male Manikin and the female Model consist of a series of colored plates that open to show five complete human figures, displaying the vascular and the nervous system.[4] Both come with sixteen pages of condensed anatomical description, and are printed on thick card and backed with cloth.

Fig 2-5

Left to right: Figure 2-5.

Around 1900 the Model and the Manikin, sized about 50 x 20 cm, sold for four shillings and sixpence. The price suggests that they were targeted at a middle-class market.[5] Until the 1940s the design of the fold-outs remained practically unchanged. A slightly altered version published in 1958 seems to have marked the end of their production series. It is impossible to ascertain how many editions and what quantities of these fold-outs circulated, due to the absence of complete publisher’s archives. However, considering the large number available today at internet auctions and the long time span of their production, it is likely that they were quite common.

Gendered designs

Although similar in overall composition, and despite the absence of depicted genital organs, the fold-outs’ designs exhibit several gender-related differences. The male Manikin’s outmost full-body flap shows blood vessels and nerve fibres, resembling a present-day anatomical textbook image, which significantly diminishes possible appearances of liveliness. In contrast, the female Model’s outside flap depicts an intact layer of rosy skin. Moreover, in order to reveal the full body of the Model of the Human Body (Female), a blank overlay needs to be folded open (Fig. 6), which otherwise covers the body parts from her thighs to her neckline (though genitals remains covered with a piece of cloth). The back of the overlay shows the image of a muscular torso (Fig. 7). Another flap conceals the depiction of a fetus (Fig. 8); a hidden reference to female reproductive capacities.

Fig 6-8

Left to right: Figure 6-8.

As a present-day viewer one might chuckle and interpret the covering-up of the female fold-outs as a proof of Victorian prudery. In fact, the designs of Philips’ flap-anatomies stem from a longer tradition of models in public anatomy that featured strong gender-related stereotypes and heavily sexualized perceptions of the female body.

Late-Victorian anatomical ideals and stereotypes

As a private company Philip & Son needed to comply with the existing public conceptions of anatomy.[6] A look at the wider context of models in public anatomy in the early period of the flap-anatomies’ production helps to reconstruct the references which the map-trader Philips would have had at hand to fashion and market their product. In their designs and body types, the fold-outs clearly relate to nineteenth-century traditions of popularized anatomy, which exhibited strong degrees of aesthetic idealization and gender stereotyping.

Fig 9-10

Figure 9, Figure 10.

The posture that Philip & Son gave their first Anatomical Model (Fig. 9) bears salient resemblance to images of popular anatomy books of the period, such as Living Anatomy (Fig. 10), a collection of anatomical plates for the reference of painters and art students (cf. Burns, 1900). Aestheticized male anatomies were quite common in late-Victorian Britain and one finds similar poses in early photographs of contemporary fitness ideals like the body builder Eugene Sandow (Fig. 11). Sandow, a bewhiskered gymnastics advocate of the 1880s and ‘90s, might in turn have served as a reference for the male Manikin’s hair fashion (Fig. 12) (Waller, 2011).

Fig 11-12

Figure 11, Figure 12.

While the male Anatomical Model and Popular Manikin illustrate aesthetic ideals of masculinity, widely circulating in late-Victorian society, potential templates for Philips’ Model of the Human Body (Female) were confined to specific sites for public anatomy. By the 1850s, museums of anatomical display had become popular as stand-alone commercial attractions.[7] Advertising democratized self-knowledge, yet luring with the spectacles of curiosity cabinets, anatomical museums targeted almost all members of society (offering one-pence and special ladies-day admissions). Among the attractions of these exhibitions were so-called wax Venuses (Fig. 13, Fig. 14), anatomical wax models of late eighteenth-century, Italian origin, to which Philips’ Model of the Human Body (Female) shows some striking similarities. Just like the female fold-outs, and in contrast to the general male wax figures on display, which were usually skinless (think of Body Worlds), the female Venus models appear quite lifelike – sleeping rather than dead – with a skin-colored exterior and a full mane of hair. Among their removable parts one usually finds a small fetus. In contrast to male anatomical models of the period, both Philips’ female Models and the wax Venuses do not portray the general physiology of their sex, but that of an expectant mother.

Fig 13-14

Figure 13, Figure 14.

The Venuses’ function – as their names already suggest – was not just educational. A short look at the Venuses’ posture and facial expression is enough to see that they are loaded with sexual implications. The reduction of the female body to its reproductive capacity linked in with Victorian ideas of gender that portrayed women primarily as wives and mothers (Hall, 2013). Yet, the erotic aura of the anatomical Venuses was in stark contrast to the domestic virtuousness that the ideal Victorian housewife impersonated. This was certainly one factor which turned the Venuses into crowd pullers which by the 1860s had a firm place in the anatomical exhibition halls; they would have been well-known, also amongst Philips’ readership.

While to us Philips’ Models will look rather innocent, their similarities to the wax Venuses would have influenced their perception by contemporaries. In Victorian times, the display of female reproductive capacities, paired with the process of “unveiling” (Jordanova, 1993), removing layer after layer of paper, might have been perceived as sexually intriguing.

After increasing unease on the side of the medical profession most anatomical museums were ultimately closed down under the 1860s Obscene Publications Act. Nevertheless, their anatomical exhibitions contributed to the formation of a public culture of anatomy and the role of models therein. In turn, this Victorian anatomical world view shaped the expectations and aspirations that popularizers and publishers had to live up to. The decline of the anatomical museum might have contributed to the opening-up of a new niche for the genre of paper fold-outs of which Philips’ Popular Manikin was part. In my next entry, I will take a closer look at this broad spectrum of flap-anatomies and its different functions.


Simone Schleper is a PhD candidate at the History Department of Maastricht University. Part of a research team on the history of experts in nature conservation, Simone examines the strategies of ecologists in international environmental projects between 1960 and 1980. Prior to her return to Maastricht, where she also obtained her BA, she completed her MPhil at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. 


Anonymous. (1895). The Bookseller. A Newspaper of British and Foreign Literature.

Burmeister, M. R. (2000). Popular Anatomical Museums in Nineteenth-century England: Rutgers University.

Burns, C. L. C. R. J. (1900). Living anatomy. London: Longmans, Green.

Carlino, A. (1999). Books of the Body: Anatomical Ritual and Renaissance Learning: University of Chicago Press.

de Chadarevian, S., & Hopwood, N. (2004). Models: The Third Dimension of Science: Stanford University Press.

Furneaux, W. S. (Ed.). (1983). Philips’ Anatomical Model London: George Philip & Son.

Furneaux, W. S. (Ed.). (ca. 1900a). Philips’ Model of the Human Body (Female). London: George Philip & Son.

Furneaux, W. S. (Ed.). (ca. 1900b). Philips’ Popular Manikin. London: George Philip & Son.

Hall, C. (2013). White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History: Wiley.

Jordanova, L. (1993). Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine Between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries: University of Wisconsin Press.

Klaver, E. (2009). The Body in Medical Culture: SUNY Press.

Sappol, M. (2006). Dream anatomy: Government Printing Office.

Smith, D. (1987). Map publishers of Victorian Britain: the Philip family firm 1834 – 1902. The Map Collector, 38, 28-34.

Waller, D. (2011). The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman: Victorian Secrets.

Weedon, A. (2003). Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market 1836-1916: Ashgate Publishing.


Fig. 1; Fig. 3: Philips’ Popular Manikin (ca. 1900). Courtesy of the Whipple Museum for the History of Science.

Fig. 2; Fig. 9: Philips’ Anatomical Model (1893). Courtesy of the Whipple Museum for the History of Science.

Fig. 4; Fig 5; Fig. 6; Fig. 7; Fig. 8: Philips’ Model of the Human Body (Female) (ca.1900). Courtesy of the Whipple Museum for the History of Science.

Fig. 10: Plate from Burns’ Living anatomy (1900). Retrieved from, on 4 August 2013.

Fig. 11: Victorian body builder Eugen Sandow (ca. 1894). Retrieved from, on 21 August 2013.

Fig. 12: Victorian body builder Eugen Sandow (ca. 1897). Retrieved from, on 21 August 2013.

Fig. 13; Fig 14:  Anatomical Venus. Retrieved from, on 4 August 2013.


This series draws on the provisional Philips work archive at the Royal Geographical Society, London, accessed with the help of Francis Herbert, ex-Curator of Maps at the RGS, and on the private collection of Bill Willett, former Senior Cartographic Editor at Philips’. I would like to thank Mr. Herbert and Mr. Willet, as well as Dr. Salim Al-Gailani, who supervised a related essay of mine in 2011 at HPS, Cambridge.

[1] Historical research is sparse when it comes to anatomical fold-outs and their roles in public anatomy in the late nineteenth century. The limited literature available has mainly classified them as means of anatomical illustration (e.g. Carlino, 1999; Sappol, 2006). The exhibition Animated Anatomies at Duke University (18 May – 17 July 2011) traced the flap-book genre from early sixteenth-century examples to late twentieth-century children’s pop-up anatomy books. For a video showing the mechanics of some fold-outs:

[2] Whipple Museum, access no. 5852n.

[3] For a discussion of object-accompanying paper supplements see de Chadarevian & Hopwood, 2004.

[4] In the time the fold-outs were printed chromolithography was still a rather recent innovation. The spread and mechanization of this technology, patented in Germany in the 1830s, were reinforced by a growing reading public and public press (Weedon, 2003).

[5] This was a medium price with 60% of all books published in 1895 under 3.6 d net (The Bookseller, 1895).

[6] For a business history of Philip & Son see Smith (1987).

[7] The museums displayed a combination of skeletons, preparations in spirits, and wax and papier-mâché models. Joseph Kahn’s and Jacob Reimer’s museums were two well-known examples (Burmeister, 2000; Klaver, 2009).


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