For generations, the cast of an unknown criminal dubbed with the mock Latin title of Smugglerius, has been used in the teaching of anatomical drawing at Edinburgh College of Art
with no real knowledge of its provenance. This exhibition, developed as part of the ongoing restoration of the Edinburgh College of Art Cast Collection, at last reveals the man behind the cast.
In addition to detailed research which examines the history of the cast and the life of the man it was most likely moulded from, the exhibition includes original artworks created in response to Smugglerius and the theme of a past unveiled.
Dating from 1854, the College Smugglerius is a copy of an original écorché a figure with the skin and fat removed to expose the muscles and tendons - made in 1776 at Royal Academy of Art in London. This earlier cast, now lost, was moulded from the body of a hanged criminal by the sculptor Agostino Carlini, following its dissection by William Hunter, the famous anatomist. The College cast, which retains the stunning detail of the original, was made by a little known moulder and figure maker called William Pink, probably at the time of his employment at the British Museum; an inscription on the base of the cast states Published by W PINK Moulder 1854.
Since its arrival at the College, the cast has been used in the teaching of anatomy to art students, much as the original cast would have been used by artists at the Royal Academy, among them William Blake . In 2008, The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded a grant of £498,500 for the conservation and restoration of Edinburgh College of Arts 200-year-old Cast Collection, and as part of this, Smugglerius has been restored to its former glory.
Working alongside the restoration project, artist and lecturer Joan Smith joined forces with anthropologist Dr Jeanne Cannizzo to develop a research project that would explore the provenance of Smugglerius. Working together for two years, the research project now reaches fruition with this exhibition, revealing the history and the identity of the flayed man. Seeking to expose and reverse the process by which a living man with a name became an anonymous specimen and eventually a replica cast, Smugglerius Unveiled explores questions of identity, and immortality in art.
Commenting on the research findings and the artworks they have created using Smugglerius as a starting point, Joan Smith, who herself teaches anatomy drawing, says: We hope that visitors to the exhibition will be able to contemplate the complexities of the relationship between identity and anonymity, the changing nature of criminal punishment and the importance of anatomy in both science and art.
Smugglerius Unveiled is shown alongside Drawing For Instruction: the art of explanation. The University of Edinburghs Talbot Rice Gallerys opening exhibition for 2010, Drawing For Instruction: the art of explanation is a first for the UK; an exhibition of art by researchers, teachers and students executed to instruct. The exhibition includes a significant archive of life drawing from Edinburgh College of Art, the earliest example going back to 1880.