London Exhibit Explores the Mysterious Human Brain, With Samples From Geniuses and Body Snatchers (Photos)

Wellcome Brains Exhibition© Courtesy of The Gordon Museum, Kings College London

What secrets does the brain possess? A new exhibit, "Brains: The Mind as Matter," at London's ever-curious Wellcome Collection examines the extraordinary organ that has driven our species to survive, yet that may also lead to our undoing.

Displaying over 150 objects including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, artefacts, videos and photography, the show looks at the long quest to manipulate and understand the least-understood of human organs.

The comprehensive exhibit includes famous and not-so-famous brain specimens, including those of Albert Einstein and William Burke (the infamous Edinburgh body snatcher) as well as a fascinating array of other media paying homage to the gray matter that plays boss to all other organs.

Marius Kwint, Guest Curator, says:

Brains shows how a single, fragile organ has become the object of modern society’s most profound hopes, fears and beliefs, and some of its most extreme practices and advanced technologies. The different ways in which we have treated and represented real, physical brains open up a lot of questions about our collective minds.


Above, wax model head by Joseph Towne (1806–1879), one of the most skilled and prolific makers of wax moulages (medical models) of the 19th century.

Wellcome Brains Exhibition© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Wax models of embryonic brains.

Wellcome Brains Exhibition© Courtesy of the University of Aberdeen

Box model of the brain: Photographic prints mounted on wood with painted labels, Mid-20th century.


Wellcome Brains Exhibition© Wellcome Library, London

The Anatomy of the Brain: Watercolor in book, Charles Bell, 1823

Wellcome Brains Exhibition© Wellcome Library, London

From L'homme et un traitte de la formation du foetus du mesme autheur, line drawing by Rene Descartes, 1644.

Wellcome Brains Exhibition© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Master John Banister's Anatomical Tables. According to the University of Glasgow, n 1540 Henry VIII licensed the Company of Barber Surgeons to anatomise the bodies of four criminals a year, and from 1557 attendance at these dissections was made compulsory for members of the Company. John Banister was admitted to the Company in 1572 soon afterwards becoming their Lecturer in Anatomy.


Wellcome Brains Exhibition© Left: Burt Green Wilder Brain Collection, Cornell University, photograph by Peter Ross / Right: Science Museum, London

Preserved brain of Helen H Gardner, women’s suffragist. Wet specimen (human tissue), on the left. On the right, specimen jar containing piece of William Burke's brain, made between 1821-1870.

Wellcome Brains Exhibition© Wellcome Library, London

Slices of Einstein's brain, courtesy of the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, says:

We all recognise its outline and know that it is the most important part of us; but for many, the brain remains as mysterious as it is beguiling. This exhibition presents brains of extraordinary people amongst other intriguing specimens, and showcases remarkable tales from more than 500 years of scientific investigation into the physical matter of the mind.

Curated by Marius Kwint, Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture at the University of Portsmouth and Lucy Shanahan at Wellcome Collection, the exhibit runs until June 17, 2012.

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