Thanks for an interesting question.
Most often an ecorché is a model showing the muscles without the
smoothing effect of a layer of skin. For centuries, they have been
used during an artist's education. Painters and sculptors would use
them as part of their training in human anatomy. You will also find
anatomical drawings described as ecorchés if they are studies of the
Some ecorchés are of such high quality that they are exhibited for
their own sake, for instance a sculpture on display in the cathedral
in Milan (see below).
By the way, you will find this spelt 'ecorche' or 'ecorché' or
'écorché' - all from the French word for flaying or stripping away the
skin. 'Escorche' is actually an old French spelling which isn't
generally used these days.
"Ecorché [Fr.: flayed].
A model of the body with the skin removed and the superficial muscles
displayed. Examples survive in a variety of media: plaster, bronze,
wax, terracotta, ivory and wood. Like casts after parts of the body
kept in artists studios, the écorché served as an example of the
structure of the body, obviating the difficulties of studying anatomy
by dissection. Artists and anatomists shared interest in the
structure of the human body is reflected by the frequent inclusion of
écorché models in their portraits
extract from: "Grove Dictionary of Art"
Any painted, sculpted, or drawn figure depicting the muscles of the
human body without skin. Practiced by Leon Battista Alberti
(1404-1472, Italian), a theorist and Renaissance architect."
dictionary of art terms
Ecorchés could, and can be, used for non-artistic purposes. Anyone
studying anatomy could make use of one, but traditionally, ecorchés
have been an important element in training painters and sculptors.
ECORCHES FROM DIFFERENT PERIODS
"...the sculptor Houdon produced (in 1764-8, in Rome) a male figure
with the skin stripped off (L'Ecorche), the better to study the
disposition and actions of the muscles. This exists in many copies and
Essential Art History (Anatomical Study)
You'll find a picture of Houdon's Ecorché, before and after
Houdon's L'Ecorché Restoration
A Van Gogh example here:
L'Écorché and Borghese Gladiator
Ecorché in Milan Cathedral
A sixteenth century illustration from an anatomy book:
Ecorché with Exterior Muscles of the Front of the Body, 1521
Attributed to Amico Aspertini (c. 1474-1552)
And a modern work:
Christophe Avella Bagur: Ecorche Young Man And Town
A non-human ecorché:
Rembrandt's "Le buf écorché"
If you're interested in a book on the subject:
"As the human body moves, muscles contract and relax, creating subtle
changes in body contours and shifting patterns of light and shadow on
the skin's surface. Visualizing exactly what happens beneath the skin
to cause these changes on the surface is an essential skill for
artists, physicians, physical therapists, and body builders-for anyone
who needs to understand the body in motion."
extract from review of:
Visualizing Muscles: A New Ecorché Approach to Surface Anatomy
by John Cody, David Riffel (Photographer)
I hope this helps. If any links fail to work or if anything is
unclear, please get back to me and I will do my best to assist
Google search "ecorche OR ecorché OR écorché" - English results only
Google image search (results include a lot of non-artistic models and