November 2019 - shortly before the Pandemic, in the event - marked the inauguration at the Science Museum London of the new Wellcome Galleries of Medicine of which my new bronze sculpture, Santa Medicina, is a feature. This was one of four Art Commissions for the Galleries by the Science Museum Group. You can find her - an allegorical figure of Medicine sheltering her patient in her ample skirts - in the Faith Hope and Fear gallery at the far side of the exhibit. The Medicine Galleries have been 8 years in the making, as showcase for history of Medicine, contemporary medicine and Henry Wellcome's collection and I am really honoured to have my Santa Medicina presented there to the public.
The bronze female figure holds a scalpel and scissors. Her hair is looped onto her head, crowned with a surgeon's mirror. Open down the back to reveal écorché muscles, her dress appears like an operating gown, the skirts encrusted with amulets. The skirts shelter a fragile waxwork figure in a glass case resembling a reliquary, encased in glass, under a blanket covered with symbolic pins, and surrounded by flickering candles.
This figure is part surgeon part saint, combining objects and imagery from different faiths and medical practices. The stethoscope becomes a string of prayer beads, the head mirror a halo. The hands are cast from those of eminent cardiac surgeon Francis Wells. They hold a scalpel and scissors, both the tools of surgery, and classical symbols for controlling the thread of life.
The amulets that cover Santa Medicina's skirts are drawn from objects in the galleries, international medical collections and the life of the sculpture. Members of staff at the museum, the foundry, the artist's friends and colleagues suggested symbols relevant to them. From a wax model of twins in the womb, chosen by Keeper of Medicine Natasha McEnroe to an orthodontic retainer brace, chosen by Curator of Art Collections, Katy Barrett, the sculpture makes the clinical personal.
Santa Medicina’s skirts reveal a vulnerable sheltered figure, both body and soul, nourished equally by medicine and faith. She helps us to reflect on the frailty of human life, this healer is an imagined patron saint of medicine, and hopes to offers a guide for thinking about what makes a ‘good death’.
Read an interview with me by Joanna Ebenstein of Morbid Anatomy about the commission here