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Role of anatomy in our contemporary age and the history of the Anatomy Museum of Naples.

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Role of Anatomy in Our Contemporary Age and
the History of the Anatomy Museum of Naples
This work analyzes the significance of anatomical knowledge in the contemporary age through the history of a
prestigious institution, the Anatomy Museum of Naples. The museum’s past was ineluctably linked not only to the
local sociopolitical events but also to the scientific developments of medicine. The museum is an academic place
where the importance of the anatomic science in the contemporary age both in the scientific and in the cultural fora
is evident. Anat Rec (Part B: New Anat) 289B:92–97, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
KEY WORDS: anatomy; medicine; history; museum
Within the contemporary debate on
scientific and cultural research, the
centrality of the human body is more
and more manifest thanks to the socalled biopolitical paradigm by
Michel Foucault. According to him,
the vicissitudes of the body—its description, the studies on it, its medical
assistance and management— contain
a political dimension, hence they cannot be dealt with only from a medical
perspective. In fact, medical science,
as well as all science in general, has in
this regard failed because of its reiterated objective methodology that, in
regard to the vicissitudes of the body,
has nowadays become alien. The bioDr. Esposito is full professor of human
anatomy, head of Anatomy Unit Department of Public and Preventive Medicine,
head of Anatomical Museum, president
of Committee for University Sport, in
Second University of Naples, Italy. He
has realized many studies on the anatomical collection of the museum,
where he has initiated transdisciplinary
researches together his pupil, Ms.
Chiapparo, who is interested in child
psychiatric/somatic disease, which she
studies through an integrated scientific/
philosophical methodology.
*Correspondence to: Vincenzo Esposito, Human Anatomy Unit, Department of Public, Clinical, and Preventive
Medicine, Seconda Università di Napoli,
Via Luciano Armanni 5, 80138 Napoli,
Italy. Fax: 39-081-5665053; E-mail:
DOI 10.1002/ar.b.20297
Published online in Wiley InterScience
© 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
political paradigm has unveiled the
urgency of a philosophical practice
that again accompanies medicine in
order to gather the multifaceted
meaning of the experience of the body
(Foucault, 1969). While this need was
well satisfied in the classical epoch
when the philosopher-medical doctor
was common, it is nowadays opposed
by some scientist such as the neurophysiologist Anthony Damasio (2003).
Indeed, this new awareness of the
complexity of the vicissitudes of the
body reaffirms the crucial significance
of such a prestigious institution as the
Museo Anatomico di Napoli (the
Anatomy Museum of Naples). Due to
its intricate history, this institution
appears to configure itself well as an
academic place fit to receive the actual
centrality of the vicissitudes of the human body and able to explicate its
multifaceted meanings.
The current scientific methodologies based on criteria of objectiveness
that have gradually increased the tendency of procedures and methods to
become abstract urge the reestablishment of the fundamental role of the
human body. Indeed, an abstract and
objective science differentiates itself
more and more from the vicissitudes
of the human body. The crisis of Western scientific culture as clearly stated
by Edmund Husserl (1972) at the beginning of the 20th century inevitably
leads to epistemological actions
aimed at filling the gap between Western culture and day-by-day life that
materializes in single and subjective
Nevertheless, a renewed approach
to the human body is required to
avoid cognitive attitudes that consider
the body as the sum of parts without
any interconnecting structures and
dynamics (Solano, 2001). This idea of
the body has had many consequences
on the psychic life of communities as
well as on their cognitive activities
(Merricks, 2001).
According to such a theory, the
body appears as divided in portions
without any reciprocal relation and,
thereafter, alienated by more and
more insisting on anatomophysiologic close-ups. Based on this approach, in 1986 the United States National Library of Medicine launched
the Visible Human Project (VHP),
aimed at creating “complete, anatomically detailed, three-dimensional representations of the normal male and
female bodies” (http://www.nlm.nih.
While undoubtedly characterized
by scientific aims similar to those that
urged anatomists to establish the first
cabinets to prepare and preserve anatomical specimens, the VHP highlights the current attitude of human
anatomy to propose itself as a set of
“data . . . that could be reassembled,
navigated and manipulated with computer software” (http://www.nlm.nih.
visible_vishum.html). Therefore, due
to self-generated attitudes based on
criteria of eliminativism, the axiom
that affirms the urge of dividing up
the macrophysical objects into their
elemental parts (Merricks, 2001), the
present pervasion of the human body
transforms the excessive presence of
the body into its absence, or obsolescence. This obsolescence recalls the
pseudoscientific anxiety toward evolution of body morphology that intrinsically coincides with insane attempts
to overcome technically the death
which, due to its disintegrating effect
on bodies, set up the tradition of early
studies about human anatomy and,
nowadays, is significantly deprived, in
our opinion, of any significance by scientific projects and computer-based
paradigms, such as VHP, that clearly
refer to the telepresence of the body.
The concept of the telepresence, introduced by Marvin Minsky (Kac, 1993),
expresses the contemporary need for
virtual dimension of human bodily existence. It is akin to the similar concept of tele-existence, which “refers to
the situation where the main senses of
an operator, like sight and hearing,
are transferred to a remote place by
means of telecommunications so that
he/she has the ’feelings of presence’”
(Suomela and Halme, 2001). So this
vision of the body has alarming consequences on collective imagination,
as the posthuman artistic faction has
testified and indeed fed at an increasing pace (Kac, 1993; Grau, 2000).
Furthermore, amplifying the concept of obsolescence, this cognitive
approach to the body justifies many
medical practices based on a “multitransplanted” body “supported by
new drugs and supplied with numerous prosthesis.” These biomedical
practices aim at bridging the borders
between the organic and the inorganic, the biological and the technological, in order to escape the natural
destiny of diseases, individual deficits,
and malformations.
While keeping off conservative ideologies, which oppose scientific and
technological progress, we recognize
the urgency of restating the centrality
of the body in all aspects—not only
scientific ones— of the human cognitive praxis.
Taking into account the aforementioned considerations, the Anatomy
Museum of Naples plays a very crucial
role thanks not only to its past—
shaped more by complex human vicissitudes than by cultural and scientific
facts— but also to its recent history,
equally evocative and valuable, as we
analyze in the following pages.
The intricate beginning of the Anatomy Museum of Naples appears significantly linked to the city’s institutional and sociopolitical events, while
being clearly influenced by the concurrent development of the medical
The oldest nucleus of the current
anatomical collection derives from
the dissection cabinet (a place in
which the anatomists made their scientific experiments) that, in the 17th
century, the anatomist and famous
surgeon Marco Aurelio Severino established at the Ospedale di San Giacomo Apostolo.
A second nucleus was established
by Domenico Cotugno, a follower of
Morgagni and a supporter of anatomical dissections’ relevance, at the Ospedale degli Incurabili, where many
medical cabinets of Naples’s hospitals
were moved.
At the end of the 18th century, the
future Anatomy Museum of Naples’s
history was linked with that of two
more Neapolitan institutions, the
Mineralogy Cabinet and the Zoology
Cabinet. Indeed, it was strongly influenced by the perpetual clash between
science and political power (Spadaccini, 1991).
While Italy was under French domination (1806 –1815), on Giuseppe
Bonaparte’s specific directive, the
Minister of Interior, Mr. Miot, started
restructuring the kingdom’s public
school and university as well as museums and libraries (Borrelli, 2000).
By the royal decree issued on 30
May 1806 and by the following one in
1808, among other things, the French
government expressed its intention to
create the Museum of Natural History
on the model of the Musée d’Histoire
Naturelle in Paris.
By Minister Capelacetro’s decree in
1811, the number of chairs of medicine was increased to nine while the
pathologic anatomy chair was for the
first time joined with the anatomy
chair. However, due to the short
French ruling period, the plan was realized only partially, with the establishment of the Zoology Cabinet in
1813 on the first floor of the Collegio
del Salvatore (Monticelli, 1901; Mezzogiorno, 2000).
The institutional care of public education continued under the government of King Ferdinando IV, who had
recovered the Naples crown in 1816.
By his royal decree, the whole collection of anatomical preparations belonging to the University and to the
Ospedale di San Giacomo Apostolo
(which was to be demolished in order
to build the new Palazzo delle Finanze) was transferred to the contiguous rooms of the Zoology Cabinet
where the Human and Pathologic
Anatomy Cabinet of the university
was then established. First Francesco
Folinea (1816 –1833), then Antonio
Nanula (1833–1844), directed this
cabinet. With passion, Nanula devoted himself to the development of
the University’s Anatomy Cabinet, in
favor of which he devolved his rich
personal collection, which included
both human anatomy specimens (271
pieces) and comparative anatomy
preparations such as skeletons, organs of various animals, and stones
(calculi) derived from urinary bladders of dogs, foxes, horses, and pigs
(Panceri, 1868).
During the decade 1830 –1840, the
collections increased significantly
thanks not only to the donation of
dried and in-spirit specimens prepared by Nanula (1834), but also because of wonderful new wax models
ordered by the anatomist from the
sculptor Francesco Saverio Citarelli
(Fig. 1), a pupil of the ceroplastics artist Clemente Susini, of the famous
Cabinet of the Museo della Specola di
In 1844, Nanula urged the academic
authorities to decree the enlargement
of the anatomical room, by that time
inadequate to contain all the specimens. The new rooms were inaugu-
Figure 2. Vicaria’s crania, phrenological
preparations. Cranium of Giuditta Guastamacchia.
rated during the Seventh Congress of
Italian Scientists in Naples on 20 September 1845.
In 1846, Stefano delle Chiaie (Spadaccini, 1991) succeeded Nanula
(1846 –1860) and continued the enlargement of the collections, adding
more comparative anatomy and teratology specimens, a set of wax models
(some of which belonging to the first
anatomical collection, at the Ospedale
di San Giacomo Apostolo), as well as
anatomical specimens from the Surgical Clinic Cabinet.
When Italy was unified, the activities of Naples University were strongly
influenced by the changing political
circumstances that, for instance, produced institutional proceedings, such
as the 27 October 1860 decree, by
which no less than eight professors
were discharged.
The director of the anatomy chair
and its respective cabinet was named
Gennaro Barbarisi, who added crania,
from the excavations in Pompeii, Erculaneum, and Cumae and the Teste
della Vicaria (Vicaria’s heads; Fig. 2),
to the Anatomy Cabinet (Miraglia,
1876). The latter are crania of executed men that were left hanging for
almost 30 years in iron cages on the
walls of the Neapolitan district known
as Vicaria. Moreover, Barbarisi acquired numerous wax models of em-
Figure 1. Fetus within uterus: (A) breech
birth and (B) cephalic birth. Wax models by
Francesco Saverio Citarelli.
seismic event. The restructuring
lasted nearly 10 years and the Anatomy Museum (Fig. 5) was reopened
only in 1997 (Mezzogiorno et al.,
Figure 3. Hepatic vascular system prepared through corrosion by Nicola Donadio.
bryology and human organogenesis
by the naturalist and French modeler
Guy Ainè.
The Imbriani law in 1861, while
separating the general and pathologic
anatomy chair in three new chairs,
stated the redistribution of anatomical collection in three sections, one for
each new chair: normal human anatomy, pathologic anatomy, and comparative anatomy (Russo, 1997).
In 1871, Giovanni Antonelli (1870 –
1914), who succeeded Barbarisi, ordered the move of the Anatomy Cabinet from the Collegio del Salvatore to
the former Monastero di Santa Patrizia. This building, purchased along
with the former monastery of
Sant’Andrea delle Dame by the Faculty of Medicine on dissolution of the
respective religious orders, became
the site of the renewed Anatomy Institute that definitively included the
Anatomy Cabinet. A whole wing of
new institute was set to receive the
rich anatomical collection in order to
allow a more coherent and adequate
exhibition, thanks to the availability
of wider rooms and of elegant wooden
The Anatomy Cabinet officially became the Human Anatomy Museum
of Naples that since then sits in the
former Monastero di Santa Patrizia.
In its current architectonic structure,
this building shows traces of its complex construction from the Greek colonization up to the foundation of the
Benedectine nunnery (first consecrated to Saint Nicandro and Saint
Marciano, then to Saint Patrizia), until the remaking of the convent supervised by architect Della Monica in the
12th century (Celano, 1858; Pane,
1939; Pane et al., 1963).
During the following years, the directors of the Anatomy Museum continued increasing the collections. New
didactic wax models (Fig. 3) were acquired from Ziegler’s Studium (Hopwood, 2002) and preparations in petrifaction by Efisio Marini (1881) were
added as well. Eventually, Nicola
Donadio (1939 –1940) devolved his
collection of self-prepared vascular
system’s casts by corrosion (Fig. 4) to
the museum.
During the Second World War, the
museum was shut down mainly because of severe lack of governmental
funding. In September 1980, the activities of the museum were definitively
stopped due to a disastrous earthquake that hit Naples. The whole anatomical collection was removed from
the museum, severely damaged by the
The more recent history of this institution is mainly characterized by deep
interest in subjects often deemed marginal within the present scientific debate, e.g., the role of women in the
development of medicine. It is also
marked by the beginning of studies on
the history of medicine with multidisciplinary approach (Voltaggio, 1992).
For example, studies on the ritual of
dissection (Carlino, 1994) that require
integration of historiographical aspects with more specifically philosophical, ethnographical, and anthropological ones (Pouchelle, 1983). This
approach to research is crucial not
only for the complexity of the subjects,
but also to enhance awareness of the
vital importance of transdisciplinary
connections. This approach is important in all human cognitive activities,
either cultural or scientific. In this regard, it is worth highlighting the works
of Edgar Morin, who has for many
years analyzed the crisis of representation in modern sciences. According to
many authors (Elkana, 1989; Ceruti
and Preta, 1990; Varela et al., 1992),
this crisis requires a critical approach
to the traditional categories of analysis
of the aforementioned sciences. Identifying the need of a drastic reform of
thinking, Morin (1993) hopes for a fundamental change in human logic-cognitive modalities through the realization
of a complex thinking no longer restrictive, disjunctive, and one-dimensional—leaving much scope to critics toward initiatives such as the Visible
Figure 4. Organogenesis of the heart. Two
wax models of the wide collection by Friederich Ziegler.
more represented, and experienced, as
made up of parts without not only any
mental/emotional but also ethical and
sociopolitical significance.
It has now become clearer the innovative role of a historical institution as
the Anatomy Museum of Naples.
Sharing the “live metaphor” represented by the unavoidable links between arts, science, and philosophy,
the activities of the Anatomy Museum
of Naples may be the basis to new
scientific and ethical/cultural revolutions that, as “metaphoric redescriptions” of the nature (Hesse, 1980), reaffirm the fundamental role of the
body in its unavoidable unity.
Figure 5. The Anatomy Museum of Naples.
Human Project— but, in the perspective of the complexity, involving in a
dialogue many heterogeneous factors
of the scientific practice as well as of all
the human cognitive and communicative processes.
All this will be firmly taken in hand
in all the future projects of the museum. In fact, the Anatomy Museum
of Naples is characterized by a broadminded approach to some areas of the
present artistic scenery, a natural outcome of the human anatomy’s tradition, e.g., the cooperation between the
anatomists and the artists during the
15th and 16th centuries (Voltaggio,
1992; Kemp and Wallace, 2001) and,
specifically, with famous experts in
ceroplastics at the Anatomy Museum
of Naples.
Significant synergy between anatomy
and art is realized by European institutions such as the Anatomy Museum of
Madrid (whose teratology collection
was studied by the photographer Rosamund Wolff Purcell in accordance with
its director, Professor Fermin Viejo Tirado) and the Anatomy Museum of
Montpellier, where the famous artist
Jan Fabre carried out an interesting audiovisual study on the body. Therefore,
by inaugurating a renewed tradition of
transdisciplinary dialogue, the Anatomy Museum of Naples expresses the
firm beliefs that the old-fashioned dichotomy between art and science must
be overcome (Wilson, 2002). The urgent
need to overcome the gap among arts,
philosophy, and science was already
stated by the winner of the Nobel Prize
in Physics in 1977, Ilya Prigogine, ac-
cording to whom a renewed alliance
among arts, philosophy, and science
needs to be reestablished—as the Anatomy Museum of Naples seeks—to stem
the aforementioned crisis of sciences.
In this case, it will be feasible to restore
“the solidarity of our interior experience with the world we live in,” hence
allowing all the sciences, included the
medical one, to cure “the scar left when
breaking with the philosophy” (Prigogine, 2003). With this perspective, the
medicine may have again a complex dimension, redefining itself as “art of
healing,” more precisely “human art
and science,” this being one of the main
projects of the Anatomy Museum of Naples. In this regard, the director of the
Institut für Medizin und Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Lubecca, Dietrich Von
Engelhardt (1995), said that “medicine,
arts and philosophy have multiple links.
The cultural or artistic dimension of the
medicine is manifest not only in the
reproduction of medical phenomena in
arts and literature, but mainly in the
contribution of arts such as literature
and philosophy to diagnostic and therapy and to the overcoming of pain, illness and death.” This would allow restating the unavoidability of a new
search for sense, which the scientific as
well as the philosophic/artistic contemporary cultures should regain possession. Only this new search will allow
reassembling the unity of the body not
only in the scientific and medical environment but also in the collective imagination. This unity is critical to prevent
the spreading of psychiatric illnesses
caused by splitting the body more and
The authors thank all the past directors of the Anatomy Museum of Naples who significantly involved themselves in the preservation of this
historical institution. They also thank
Brigadier General Aniello Angelotti
and Lieutenant Colonel Maurizio De
Giorgi from the Allied Joint Force
Command Naples for their editorial
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