Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks by Pamela Pilbeam - review by Charlie Campbell

Charlie Campbell

The Body-Snatchers

Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks


Hambledon & London 287pp £19.95

WAXWORKS HAVE LONG stood at the crossroads of high and low culture, an uneasy mix of art and junk. For many, wax had a sacred function: the ancient Persians and Egyptians used it to embalm their dead; wax figures appeared in Greek and Roman funeral processions, in Catholic and Orthodox churches, and in European royal funerals. On a practical level, wax models were used by surgeons to teach anatomy when body-snatching became harder, and were favoured by early pornographers. Finally, waxworks served to entertain the public, with their portraits of crime, deformity and royalty.

Undoubtedly the most important exhibition of waxworks is Madame Tussaud's, depicting the famous, past and present. The collection originated with Philippe Curtius, who made wax figures in Paris during the 1770s. He was assisted by the daughter of his housekeeper, Marie Grosholz. Marie inherited his business in 1794, and married

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

Follow Literary Review on Twitter