Neuroanatomical modelling in wax during the 18th century
Sherry GINN1 and Lorenzo LORUSSO2
Patients in ancient Rome appealed to gods such as Aesculapius, the god of medicine, for healing. The patients used terracotta models of organs to indicate the disease from which they were suffering. Such models demonstrated that anatomical representations of the human body were known from the earliest times of human history. One of the first anatomical representations in sculpture was the flayed man (the body is shown without its skin) produced in 1600 by the artist Lodovico Cardi (1559-1613), also know as ‘Il Cigoli,’ who trained in the Florentine school of Bronzino. About a century later Gaetano Zumbo (1656-1701), a Sicilian abbot who studied in Bologna, became the first person to build anatomical models in different coloured waxes.
By the 18th century the problem of training doctors became increasingly pressing. Professors found wax medical models were useful in helping students learn both the basic and clinical disciplines. To facilitate this training, a wax modellers’ school began in Bologna at the beginning of the 18th century. These artists were responsible for founding the Florentine school at the Museo della Specola. One of the first modellers with great knowledge of the human body was the Bolognese Ercole Lelli (1702-1766). He was commissioned by Pope Lambertini to produce a collection of wax models for the University of Bologna Anatomy Laboratory. Lelli was helped in his work by the Bolognese artist and anatomist Giovanni Manzolini (1700-1755), who in turn was aided by his wife, Anna Morandi (1716-1774). Anna Morandi had acquired considerable skill as an anatomist in her own right, and she was particularly interested in neuroanatomy. Her famous self-portrait in wax shows her at work on a brain. Anna continued her research and modelling in neuroanatomy following her husband’s death. She became famous for her work throughout Europe, and was the only woman involved in wax anatomical modelling at that time. Her work and the work of other modellers contributed greatly to the training of doctors in the18th century.
Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the
History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005