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Anatomy lessons

Down to the Bone

Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht (NL)

The ‘Down to the Bone’ exhibition tells the story of the vertebrates and highlights how man has learnt more about himself by studying animals. The university’s rich historic collection of medical educational objects is made visible by this spectacular presentation.

Utrecht (NL)
Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht
240 m2
Concept, Spatial design, Graphic design
Matt Vermeulen (lead), Herman Kossmann, Sietske Sips
Hands-on interactives
Ineke Puijk
Light design
Thorsten Alofs
Iris Vormgeving BV

To create a wondrous world of education and science, the display has been given the character of a depot; in it an overwhelming array of prepared samples, skeletons, stuffed animals, but also educational models, test equipment and wonderful wall plates. A monumental tower of racks, filled with skeletons of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and humans in the stairwell functions as a preamble to the exhibition. A theatrical play with light and shadow surrounds visitors ascending the stairs to the first floor. Their shadow merges dramatically with those of the animals, whose have taken on the proportions of dinosaurs. This sets the tone for an exhibition that is all about the understanding that man is an animal too.

Thematic structure

A wall collage of modern and historic photographs of medical education at the university contextualises the subsequent elements of the presentation. The exhibition space is turned into a true treasure trove. It is a depot filled to the brim with racks that have been organised thematically: skeleton, teeth, heart, procreation, digestive system and skin & hair. Clipboard in hand, visitors are guided along diverse topics through clear signage.


The layered stories not only highlight the historical objects, but also pay attention to modernity. Specially compiled short films offer the visitor a unique mini lecture for each topic by a professor or a scientist. In addition Kossmanndejong has designed simple, fun and educational hands-on interactives for the younger visitors. Children can for instance learn how to find a cavity in a tooth like a real dentistry student, or they can save a dog from asphyxiation like a vet. Moreover, everyone can ‘put their head in formaldehyde’, have it photographed and share it via the museum’s website on social media.