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Anatomical Crucifixion

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Thomas Banks, 1801, Royal Academy

CAST: Thomas Banks, Benjamin West, James Legg


Benjamin’s house

FX: Inside, night.

Crackling fire in a richly decorated sitting-room.

THOMAS Why on earth don’t you throw this daub in the trash?

BENJAMIN It’s a Rubens!

THOMAS It’s junk. Unnatural.


THOMAS Anatomically incorrect. The Royal Academy cannot display artworks which are so crap. It is a question of reputation!

BENJAMIN But a Rubens!

THOMAS You can put your Cranach in the bin, your Raphael, even your Titian. There’s not one - you hear me? - not a single depiction of the crucifixion which is accurate.

BENJAMIN Blasphemy! What about Michelangelo?

THOMAS Not 100% accurate.

Benjamin chokes.

BENJAMIN Michelangelo? Inaccurate? He nailed a man to a cross, stabbed him and made a drawing of the effect!

THOMAS Story for old ladies. Michelangelo didn’t have the guts to do it.

BENJAMIN You’re talking about Michelangelo. The great Michelangelo! He dissected bodies!

THOMAS Yet he never ever conducted the ultimate test!

BENJAMIN (choking heavily) Michel - inaccu - I need air, I need air, I need -

THOMAS A corpse.

BENJAMIN A … corpse?

THOMAS A fresh one. We could string up a live victim but I’m not sure the ethical committee would approve.

BENJAMIN Wh - Wh - Why do we need a corpse?

THOMAS To see what really happens to a crucified body.



FX: Outside, day.

Mob growling and shouting in the background.

JAMES Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock,

The clock struck one,

The mouse ran down,

Hickory, dickory, dock!

BENJAMIN Is he ... alright?

THOMAS Who cares?

BENJAMIN He sounds confused. Mad.

THOMAS Of course he’s mad. He’s a murderer.

JAMES Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock -

The rest of the stanza is a background noise as Benjamin and Thomas talk.

The clock struck two,

The mouse said boo,

Hickory, dickory, dock!

BENJAMIN I mean, insane.

THOMAS Insane or not, that has no importance for our purpose.

BENJAMIN How old is he?

THOMAS 73. I know, too old to fake Christ. But there’s nothing else on the market.

JAMES (sane) Why the cross?

THOMAS Oh, er … (Low, to Benjamin) You see, he’s not demented. (Normal, to James) An experiment.

JAMES A scientific experiment? Involving dissection?

THOMAS Nothing that vulgar. We’re artists. We’re just going to crucify you.

JAMES Lord, save me, they want to torture me -

THOMAS (Low, to Benjamin) Not demented but pretty hysterical. (Normal, to James) Breathe, yeah, that’s better. I’ll nail you once you’re dead.

JAMES I don’t want to die -

THOMAS Don’t be such a bore.

JAMES Please, I’m an old man - (Joyously) Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock,

The clock struck three -

The rest of the stanza is a background noise as Benjamin and Thomas talk.

The mouse said whee,

Hickory, dickory, dock!

BENJAMIN Don’t you think he’s got dementia?

THOMAS You want a corpse or not?

BENJAMIN Sure but -

THOMAS Are you aware of the demand for such supply? It’s very hard to get a fresh cadaver.

JAMES I’m still alive.

THOMAS Not for long.

BENJAMIN I’m feeling quite uncomfortable, I mean, the whole thing sounds very amoral, not Christian for one penny.

THOMAS You prefer to get in touch with the Resurrection Men?

BENJAMIN The Resurrection Men? I don’t want anything to do with witchcraft!

THOMAS A gang of body snatchers.

BENJAMIN God! I’m not dealing with criminals.

JAMES Please help me.

BENJAMIN No way. I’m the director of the Royal Academy, I have integrity!

JAMES I beg you, sir -

THOMAS Die for Art! (Low, to Benjamin) Those soldiers, such Philistines!

FX: James walks to the gallows.

THOMAS (Loud, almost shouting) You’re about to be launched into eternity at the Newgate drop! Bravo!

JAMES (from a distance) Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock,

The clock struck four,

The mouse said more,

Hickory, dickory, dock!

FX: On the last word, James Legg is hanged.

THOMAS Right, let’s nail him straight to the cross.

BENJAMIN He’s still shaking on the rope.

THOMAS I need him warm.

FX: They cut James’ rope. James’ body falls onto the ground.

BENJAMIN What we do for the sake of Art! God, I’m going to get lumbago.

FX: They nail James’ body to the cross.

THOMAS Lift the cross. I need a perfect position of the artefact. Stop! Beat.

Wonderful! Let’s make a cast before rigor mortis sets in.

FX: Thomas casts James’ body.

THOMAS Remove the skin.

BENJAMIN Beg your pardon?

THOMAS I need to see the superficial muscles exposed. Flay it!

BENJAMIN You do it!

THOMAS It’s for your art school.

BENJAMIN Still. You do it.

FX: Thomas flays the body.

BENJAMIN (nauseous) It’s gory.

THOMAS It’s Art.

BENJAMIN Hmm. So … What do you think?


BENJAMIN Anatomically correct or incorrect?

THOMAS Definitely correct. I mean, I cast a flayed corpse.

BENJAMIN: Rubens and co!

THOMAS Oh, right. They obviously made their studies from dead models. Too stiff. Untrue.

BENJAMIN Yours was dead too!

THOMAS But still warm. Not rigid yet.

BENJAMIN Pfff. Still not scientific enough.

THOMAS I agree, the method is problematic.

BENJAMIN However Michelangelo’s depiction is -

THOMAS Inaccurate.


THOMAS Look at the pinky.

BENJAMIN The pinky?

THOMAS Yeah, the left one. Turning outward. Not natural.

BENJAMIN You’re being serious?!

THOMAS Michelangelo is close, yet still inaccurate.

BENJAMIN He just used a corpse with an outward-turned pinky.

THOMAS Could be. We need another cadaver. To make sure.

BENJAMIN To make sure?!

THOMAS We recorded the effect of crucifixion on a dead body. Worst, hanged. Jesus wasn’t hanged. We need to mimic Jesus’ death. We need a live body. (Becoming grandiloquent) We need to show precisely the appearance that the muscles will assume in the transition from life to death upon the cross!


BENJAMIN The test definitely proves something?


BENJAMIN That man is the most cruel and merciless of all animals.

The End

Karen Eeckman for Cradles & Labels

Anatomical Crucifixion is the name of the cast of James Legg, an executed man, made by Thomas Banks in 1801 and displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Voices from the Vault is a series of plays inspired by objects in London museums, and intended to be performed as a podcast.

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