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An Abridged History of Artful Prosthetics

22 October 2013

Author : julia-silverman

In 2007, researchers uncovered what appeared to be the oldest prosthetic appendage, a wood and leather toe from Thebes dated to 1069 – 664 BC. Since then, many thousands of years of war injuries, deformities, and illnesses have necessitated countless other prostheses. Over the years, many of them have been designed to look increasingly subtle, to meld seamlessly with their owners’ bodies, but here are a few more elaborate, artful versions that are at once creepy, intricate, and intriguing.


Perhaps designed more with function than aesthetics in mind, the prosthetic hand of Göts von Berlichingen (or Götz of the Iron Hand) is nevertheless a remarkable example of elegant design. After losing his hand to cannon fire in 1504, Götz acquired an armored hand that allowed for protection and flexibility in holding everything from “a sword to a feather pen.”

Made from brass and steel, this Victorian prosthetic hand (1850-1910) allowed for flexible wrist and finger movement. The London Science Museum claims that “the rather sinister appearance of the hand suggests the wearer may have disguised it with a glove,” which, to me, is a shame; it’s open structure and contoured perforations display both an aesthetic sensibility and sense of technological modernity.

Looking to outfit her in something other than sprinting blades, Alexander McQueen designed these wooden boots for the Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins in 1999. Mullins modeled them, along with a leather corset (that to me, evokes the part of vintage prosthetics that molds to the body) and ruffled skirt for his No. 13 show.

The two sets of limbs below were created by the artist Sophie de Oliveira Barata as part of The Alternative Limbs Project, which provides wearers with limbs ranging from the hyperrealistic to the “surreal” and “unreal.” The first of these pieces, coated in Swarovski crystals, was created for the Ice Queen role of the 2012 London Paralympic Closing Ceremony. The second is dubbed the “Wooden Arm,” and supposedly features hidden compartments.

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