A Curious Art: The Evelyn Tables

A Curious Art: The Evelyn Tables

A Curious Art:
The Evelyn Tables

Four wooden boards,
bodies splayed out.
Engrained into knots;
Italian pine.

Spinal cord draped,
melted branches.
Soft varnished hard;
invisible ink.

Arteries glow red,
injected pigment.
Thickly voluptuous;
pulses bound.

Sympathetic starburst,
nervous system.
Innervate our organs;
liver and lung.

Veins hang limply,
cut the strings.
Movement arrested;
no return.

Evelyn’s tables,
Hunterian Museum.
Seeing wooden eyes;
ancient dead.

Words Copyright Eliot North 2014

With thanks for the inspiration to The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of surgeons.  Check out their twitter feed: @HunterianLondon


Check out this fab video made by The Royal College of Physicians with information about anatomical tables.

The Story Behind ‘Curious Anatomys’

I love the Hunterian Museum (at The Royal College of Surgeons: Holborn, London) and the good news is it’s open to the public. On both of my visits I haven’t been able to move past the Evelyn Tables at the entrance to the museum. Something about their solid but other-wordly presence arrests me every time I walk through the door of the museum. I think this might be because they are one of the very few displays made of wood. Glowing,  eerie wood with human remains artfully displayed, almost melting into the grains and knots.

So that’s where this poem came from. I find the Evelyn Tables arresting in a way that is difficult to put my finger on, so the poem is an exploration of that as well as an attempt to put into words what they look and feel like to view them. The above poem is part of my collaboration with artist Rachael Allen. We secured a collaboration bursary from a-n: ‘Lessons in Anatomy: Dissecting medicine and health through visual and literary arts collaboration.’ For more information please click on this link:







The Gordon Museum of Pathology

Gordon's Museum of Pathology

Dare Quam Accipere*
The Gordon Museum of Pathology

Walk up to the black door
in Guy’s Hospital, London.
Enter by appointment
read the Latin written there.

Inside lies a chamber,
to which few are invited.
Three floors of human specimens
span four hundred years.

A museum hung and quartered,
opposing segments yellow, blue.
White painted balconies
repeat the hospital crest.

Explore each section slowly,
tread soft on spiral stair.
Lean against wooden rests,
gaze on rows of jars.

Note how the unborn lie
right next to the dead.
Body parts coded, organised,
chaotic disease made good.

*Better to give than receive

Copyright Eliot North 2014

I wrote this poem after being lucky enough to go to The Gordon’s Museum of Pathology at Guy’s Hospital in London whilst on a weekend of collaboration with the artist Rachael Allen.
We have been given a collaboration bursary by a-n (artists’s network) to work on a Project called ‘Lessons in Anatomy: Dissecting Medicine and Health Through Visual and Literary Arts collaboration.’
The weekend in London visiting the Royal Colleges of Medicine and Surgery, The Gordon’s Museum of Pathology, Wellcome Trust and British Library was the start point for us and it was fabulous.

This poem is one tiny start to what I imagine will be many months ahead of creative dialogue with Rachael that I hope to post about on here.

The Gordon’s Museum of Pathology you can read about by clicking this link. http://www.kcl.ac.uk/gordon/index.aspx. (The image is copied from their website)

Also Rachael has written about our collaboration on the a-n blog here: http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/4000721

Enjoy! xxx

Spectacular Pathologies

Spectacular Pathologies at Barts Pathology Museum

Check out the amazing Bart’s Pathology Museum in London that’s being opened to the public for an illustrative lecture and medical sculpture demonstration for The Congress for Curious People in London 29th August – 8th September.


Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser

Engraved Human Phrenology Skull : from the Wellcome Collection.

Found this picture on the Craniophiles Blog: http://craniophiles.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/uk-and-italy-skull-travel-tips/

Below is a work in progress (that I can’t get to format on here!) Anyway, it’s based on a truth that I learned from the anatomy teachers at Newcastle Medical School Anatomy Labs….


A human skull lies on a plinth. On one side a manila envelope rests, on the other a hammer, 1.25kg of chickpeas and 1.6L of water. The words OPEN ME are written in thick, black ink on the envelope. Two students stand next to the plinth, unaware they are being recorded. The girl picks up the envelope and runs her finger along it.

“Alas, poor Yorick!” the boy says, picking up the skull.

“Put it down, you’ll break it,” the girl says as she studies the contents of the envelope.

Disarticulate the skull; the hammer is a prop.

“What’s with the chickpeas?” the boy asks as he tosses the skull into the air and catches it with his other hand.

Swiftly she takes the skull from the boy. It’s heavier than expected. She traces the suture lines with a finger following the fissures and notches, fossae and processes.

“Chickpeas expand in water don’t they?” he says, picking a stray bit of crisp from a molar.

“You’re right, they do,” she says turning the skull over to look at the gaping black hole of the foramen magnum, not giving away a thing until she’s sure.

“You’ve only got it,” a small smile flickers on her lips.

She holds the skull upside down and waits whilst he pours first the chickpeas then the water, before carefully resting it back on the plinth.

The boy picks up the hammer.

“Would’ve been a lot easier if we used this,” he says.

The girl rolls her eyes at him.

They stand and wait, her arms crossed. He pretends to play hacky sac but quickly tires and starts to whistle a tune she can’t name. Exasperated she sits on the floor and he fast follows. Soon they are chatting. About campus life and who’s with whom, all the latest gossip. They have more in common than they thought.

The clock ticks, hours pass and nothing happens. The boy gets up and studies the skull. He pokes it with a finger.

“Hey, don’t. We’ve just got to wait it out.”

He rocks back on his heels and exhales a long, frustrated breath.

“God this is boring,” he says. “Look at this.”

The boy promptly lifts up his arms and throws himself into a handstand, all the blood draining to his head. With eyes bulging he smiles and sticks out his tongue. She shakes her head.

“You’re an idiot,” she says, trying not to laugh.

His body remains inverted for a few minutes but then he begins to wobble, starting to tip towards the plinth on which the skull rests, brim full of chickpeas.

“No,” she screams and leaps up, pushing his legs away. He collapses into a heap, narrowly missing the skull. “It’s like you want to fail.”

She sits down arms crossed once more. He waits it out, walks around the lab and pretends to look at body parts suspended in formaldehyde, foetuses arrested in development. When he judges she has cooled off he sits behind her. They rest back to back. The boy whistles quietly at first and then slowly builds to a virtuoso crescendo until she groans and he abruptly stops. As the daylight fades, their eyelids grow heavy. Soon they sleep, tired heads lolling.

Chickpeas swell and sutures part.

At dawn they wake as sunlight filters through the glass roof on to where they lie, cradled in each other’s arms. Faces flushed they jump apart before they even think to look at the skull.

Blinking in the sunlight they try to avoid each other’s eye. He mumbles something she doesn’t catch before they finally approach the plinth. Taking care not to disturb anything they move as if it were a crime scene. They see the skull disarticulated into perfect bone islands, on a sea of swollen chickpeas that look like tiny human brains.

When they realise what they have done they turn towards each other and hug, her laughter surfacing like air long trapped in water before he silences it with a kiss.






Words: copyright Eliot North (2013) – latest edit 2016

Object of the month: An anatomical demonstration

Look what I found on the Wellcome Website…

Wellcome Collection Blog

As part of our curious journey, Medicine Man will be closing on 21 July, to return in spring 2014. Before we begin packing things away, Muriel Bailly sneaks in a second object for this month and takes a look at the gruesome context of one small carving in the collection.

This 18th-century wood and ivory anatomical model takes its inspiration from a 16th-century painting you may be familiar with: The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt. The painting shows Dr Tulp explaining the musculature of the arm to medical professionals and was commissioned to Rembrandt by Tulp himself as a social group portrait, which were very popular at the time. The event can be accurately dated to 16 June 1632, and the body Dr Tulp is dissecting is that of convicted criminal Aris Kindt. Indeed, at that time, dissection was considered so offensive towards the dead that it…

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Doctors as Writers

The title of my blog ‘Chekhov was a doctor’ was taken from something the writer William Fiennes said to me on an Arvon writing course. I had just started to write really and this week was the first creative writing course I’d been on. William Fiennes and Mark Haddon were the tutors and I totally lucked out getting a place. There is nothing like reading aloud your own writing to get the nerves flying but it was one of the most inspiring weeks I’ve ever experienced. After a tutorial with William Fiennes I said, “So I shouldn’t give up the day job just yet”  (I work as a GP) and he said to me “Well Chekhov was a doctor.”

I’ll never forget that moment of encouragement and here is the blog that sparked off from that comment. I was amazed when I realised how many famous authors were also doctors and I wish I could have made this lecture in Edinburgh last year, but I’m sure there will be many more.

Centre for Medical Humanities Blog

Edinburgh University Medical Humanities Research Network presents:
Doctors as Writers
Panel discussion
Wednesday 14th November 6 – 7.45 pm
Followed by a wine reception
Teviot Lecture Theatre, Old Medical School, Doorway 5

There is a long tradition of doctor-writers throughout history, most  notably from the eighteenth century onwards, but going as far back as antiquity. From Keats to Smollett, from Chekhov to Conan Doyle, physicians have written about the great dramas of human life and existence. From their unique insight into life and death situations, doctors have created some of the most fascinating stories and characters in literature.
Dr Iain McClure, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist for the NHS and playwright for the BBC; Dr Gavin Francis, local Edinburgh GP and travel writer; Dr Peter Dorward, local Edinburgh GP, university lecturer and award-winning short fiction writer will form a panel discussing the ways in which being a doctor helps them…

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The Anatomist’s Hat

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp; Rembrandt van Rijn 1632

The Anatomist’s Hat

after Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp’

It is a cold January in Amsterdam, 1632. Seven bearded surgeons stand in the weigh-house at Nieuwmarkt. They gaze at the body of Adriaen het Kint who lies on a wooden slab in front of them. Physician Tulp, marked out by his wide-brimmed black hat, demonstrates to those assembled.

The Anatomist’s voice, low and sombre, forces the surgeons to crane their white-ruffed necks. My easel is set on the left and towards the dead man’s feet. Dr Tulp moves his scalpel like an extended finger as he parts the man’s skin, subcutaneous fat and fascia, to reveal the muscles and tendons beneath.

Rotting flesh pollutes the air. I breathe in through my mouth and exhale a rolling mist. The composition is set, body centre stage; waxen skin, smalt-blue lips and blood clotted like rust.  Forceps held in his right hand, Dr Tulp proceeds to talk in tongues: pronator teres, palmaris longus, flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris. The words fall from his lips like pearls scattered amongst swine.

Winter sun fades and candles gutter. The criminal’s arm appears to beckon. I feel my own hand tighten in response. The work progresses assuredly. Paint applied to canvas layer on layer as the man’s body is stripped back just as carefully, before being dumped in the drink.

Copyright 2013 Eliot North





I love Rembrandt, I love anatomy.

Anyone visiting Amsterdam should definitely check out Rembrandt’s House. He was a hoarder of cool things and it is a real gem of a museum. Probably my favourite museum in Amsterdam.

I wish I’d seen Body Worlds whilst it was touring and came to London….. one day!