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Changing the Dead to Statues of Stone: The Synthesis of Fossils, Petrifaction, Photography, and the Chemistry of the Gorgonean Arts

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Taking the story of Efisio Marini as its starting point, this paper argues that embalming and photography are materially and historically connected due to their chemical nature. Photography and modern embalming both originated in the “chemical complex” of the nineteenth century, i.e., the idea that nature and natural processes could be synthesized in the laboratory. As Ursula Klein and Wolfgang Lefèvre have remarked, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century chemists experimented with materials, studied the possibilities for improving their production, examined their properties, explored their reactions, and analyzed their composition. Eighteenth-century chemistry, in their words, could be seen as the most authoritative science of materials. Marini’s story relates to this ontology of materials in that it refers to experiments with chemical substances and subsequent changes in their materiality and meaning.

Affiliations: 1: Museo de La Plata-CONICET, Argentina, Email:, URL:


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