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  • Writer's pictureLeft For Dread

History of the mystery of wax museums

Hey Dreadfuls! In honor of Friday's episode, I thought I would give some history behind wax museums, where they started, where they've gone and end with the most famous name in wax, Madame Tussauds. While this is gone into a little in the episode, I just found a lot of the history so fascinating that I wanted to share it a little more in depth.

Wax modeling itself had already been an established art form for centuries. It was commonly being used for religious effigies as well as teaching human anatomy. It was only in the 18th century that waxworks started to emerge as a source of entertainment for paying customers. Typically, waxworks consisted of a collection of sculptures representing famous figures from history (and currently, contemporary personalities) dressed in real clothing. As I stated in the episode, it was a common funerary practice in the Middle Ages to carry around and display a corpse on top of their coffin which became a problem in hot weather. This is where the practice of creating wax religious effigies came in. The effigies were displayed in the tombs for people to visit.

Until the 19th Century a collection of British Royal wax effigies were located in the museum of Westminster Abbey in London. The figures went all the way back to Edward III off England who died in 1377. Some of the other figures in that collection were naval hero Horatio Nelson, Duchess of Richmond Frances Stewart (who also had her parrot stuffed and put on display with her). Starting with the funeral of Charles II the wax figures were only to be bad to represent the figures and no longer displayed on top of the coffins of the deceased.

With waxworks on the rise, enter Antoine Benoist, a French court painter and wax sculptor to King Louis XIV. Benoist exhibited over forty wax figures of the French Royal Circle at his residence in Paris. This was his ticket to fame. After the display in his home, his figures were to be displayed in England by invitation of James II. In 1684, Benoist created close to ninety wax figures of James II and his royal court. Following that in 1711, a museum of 140 figures was opened called The Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England on Fleet Street in London.

Fast forward to 1770, Philippe Curtius, a waxwork modeller to the French Court, opened his Cabinet de Circe as a tourist attraction in Paris which remained open until 1802. In 1783, Curtius introduced a Caverne des Grandes Voleurs (Cave of the Great Thieves), as an early form of a "Chamber of Horrors". He left the collection in its entirety to his protegé Marie Tussauds.

Stay Tuned Dreadfuls for another post all about the woman herself, who became the most well known name in Wax Works.

Madam Tussauds.

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