Revealing the human body through anatomical models

Explore the astonishing and sometimes eye-watering anatomical models that have uncovered the inner workings of our bodies.

By Parque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Parque de las Ciencias de Granada

Plaster sculpture Plaster sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Studying the body

Anatomical models are one of the best tools for medical students to develop an accurate understanding of human anatomy. Departments of human anatomy used to employ anatomical sculptors to make such models for them. These sculptors were artists in their own right, both in universities and elsewhere. The 'Journey to the Human Body' pavilion in Granada's Parque de las Ciencias gives a comprehensive account of the work that they did.

De humani corporis fabrica De humani corporis fabricaParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body)

The works of Andreas Vesalius introduced the modern science of anatomy as the basis of medicine as we understand it today.

De humani corporis fabrica De humani corporis fabricaParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

The descriptions in his books were based on regulated dissections and rectified errors that had previously been accepted as correct.

Spinal chordParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Segment of the spinal cord in papier-mâché

In the mid-19th century the use of anatomical models representing organs and other body parts was established as a useful tool for the study of the human body.

In France, Dr. Auzoux's papier-mâché models were well known.

Plaster sculpture Plaster sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Plaster sculpture

Another technique used to create anatomical models was plaster sculpture.

The one seen here was made in the second half of the 19th century and is part of the Pedro González de Velasco collection in Madrid. On his death, the collection was distributed among Spanish universities.

Plaster sculpture Plaster sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

This model shows the vascular distribution of arteries in the head and neck - branches of the external carotid and subclavian arteries.

Wax sculpture Wax sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Wax sculptures

Wax models were also used.

Wax was a useful material, not just for recreating parts of the body but also for showing irregularities of the skin caused by dermatological conditions.

Wax sculpture Wax sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Anatomy departments employed sculptors to create these wax models.

Wax sculpture Wax sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

The models allowed for detailed observations of cutaneous lesions.

This one shows lesions caused by necrotic acne on the face, neck, and back.

Electroplating sculpture Electroplating sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada


In the mid-20th century, galvanoplastics allowed metal reproductions of organs to be made using a technique known as electrotyping.

Electroplating sculpture Electroplating sculptureParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

This electrotype (or galvanoplastic sculpture) represents the heart.

It shows the exit point of the pulmonary artery with its valve, the left coronary artery emerging directly from the aorta, and the left pulmonary veins where they reach the left atrium.

It was made by Professor Guirao Pérez in around 1950 at the Faculty of Medicine in Granada.

Plastic handParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Plastic hand

The 20th century brought with it a material that was malleable, hard-wearing, and cheap: plastic.

It quickly became the most commonly-used material in the production of anatomical teaching models.

These models were usually formed of several removable pieces, making them even more useful as teaching aids.

This plastic hand contains a large number of muscles, which allow it to be moved precisely into an infinite number of positions.

It also shows the vascular and nerve distribution.

An interesting detail worth noting is the lateral position of the vessels in the fingers, allowing us to grip objects without squeezing them too hard.

The hand is, after all, the tool we use to grasp objects.

Plastic bodyParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Plastic body

This model shows the internal organs of the thorax and the abdomen.

Also visible are the vertebrae and the brain encased in the skull.

This type of model is extremely useful for teaching anatomy, and is accessible to all types of audiences of any age.

Heart preserved in alcoholParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Heart in formaldehyde

The use of human body parts is very useful for the study of anatomy.

Preserving them over time was a problem, however, until formaldehyde provided a solution in the 20th century.

This is a heart showing the exit points of its 2 main vessels: the pulmonary artery and the aorta, with its branches leading to the neck, head, and upper limb.

Brain and spinal cordParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Brain and spinal cord

In this glass container is the central nervous system, preserved in alcohol.

The brain is at the top and below is the spinal cord within the spinal column, which carries impulses from the nervous system to the rest of the body.

The brain and spinal cord, immersed in the cerebrospinal fluid, are enveloped in the meninges (membranes).

This transparent liquid, together with the meninges themselves, acts as a shock absorber, protecting them from bumps and bruises.

Plastinated heartParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada


Because formaldehyde is a highly toxic substance, it was important to discover other methods of preserving organs and tissue.

In the 1970s Professor Gunther von Hagens developed an innovative technique, known as plastination.

The process removes liquids and fats, substituting them with a polymer, under freezing conditions and in a vacuum.

This maintains the structure of the organs, creating anatomical models that are extremely useful for teaching medicine.

Plastination, step by stepParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Plastination, step by step

This video shows the entire process of preparing organs for preservation in a plastination laboratory.

The smokerParque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

The smoker

This is a complete plastinated human body, showing the skeletal system on the left-hand side of the body and the muscular system on the right.

Some internal organs can also be seen, protected by bones such as the skull, rib cage, and pelvis.

Among the many anatomical details that can be seen in this model is the left lung, which can be easily made out through the spaces between the ribs and is dark in color as a result of years of smoking tobacco.

Circulatory system (complete)Parque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

The complete circulatory system

The circulatory system is composed of arteries that carry oxygen and nutrients, veins that carry carbon dioxide and waste products, and capillaries, which connect the two.

In this human arterial system, captured through corrosion casting, the complex system of vessels carrying blood around the entire human body can be seen - not a single part is missing.

Circulatory system (arm)Parque de las Ciencias Andalucía-Granada

Circulatory system (arm)

This model shows the arterial system in a right upper limb.

The human circulatory system carries blood around an extensive network of vessels, totaling 62,000 miles in length (equivalent to a journey 2.5 times around the world).

Credits: Story

Department of Anatomy of the University of Granada
Parque de las Ciencias

Ramón L. Pérez
Miguel Ángel Molina

Miguel Guirao
Parque de las Ciencias

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps