The Museo di Anatomia Patologica dell’Universita degli Studi di Firenze

University of Florence Museum of Pathological Anatomy

My goal during my re-visit to Florence was to find The Museo di Anatomia Pathologic dell’Universita degli Studi di Firenze.   The outskirts of Florence and this area, well let me tell you, “Oh my God”.  Not a very attractive area, full of new buildings, not very appealing to say the least.  It was like trying to find The Golden Fleece, Camelot and The Amber Room.  But once you got there you were rewarded visually with wonder, surprise and downright awe!

First, I took the bus to the Careggi.  Forgive me, I don’t recall the number of the bus and all that.  I think the experience was so overwhelming I made sure I forgot the whole itinerary.

I got off at the right stop, but you find yourself in between two huge buildings. So the Careggi is also part of the University which has a huge sprawling campus.  Ultra modern buildings, still building work going on and then a hospital all squashed together and there is no way to know what is going on.  I could understand a bit of Italian but I was lost right off the bat.

I found a student building and they explained to me how to find the collection, as it was in the Maternity building of the hospital.  I ended up going to 3 more buildings asking again and again and finally I found the Maternity hospital, wound my way a left here and a right there and straight ahead to the OLD part of the hospital and I was in the right building.

Plan your journey beforehand.  I thought I had, but I had got it all wrong.

Nevertheless, I was getting hotter.  I found a person who sent me upstairs and on the 2nd floor found a lovely pathologist teacher, researcher named Rafaella who was kind enough to find the keys and open the door and away we went!!

So first a bit of the history of this collection:
(Most of this is taken from a paper written by Dr. Nesi who is the main Professor of Anatomical Pathology in the University and who was kind enough to meet me after speaking to Rafaella, and who I must say reminds me of Helen Mirran in PRIME SUSPECT and any sexy, super-hero older female from Vanessa Redgrave in terms of her passion and commitment to Michele Pfeiffer actor extraordinaire! This woman pathologist seemed to run the entire operation on her own with a calm but passionate flourish, soave bolla energy, with this luminous dazzle as she spoke about the collection.  God help us, why can’t we have women like this running the world 24 hours a day everywhere!  What a magnificant powerhouse of knowledge, scholarship, wit and leadership.  Wow.  Respect to Prof. Dr. Nessi!  Please run for the leader of Italia maybe!!  

In 1840 the University of Florence was the first university in Italy to confer a Professorship in Pathological Anatomy.  The origin of this teaching post is linked to the history of the Pathology Museum founded in 1824

The museum houses anatomical specimens and waxworks depicting pathological conditions in the 19th century.

Both the need to instruct medical students in pathology without resorting to corpse dissection and the difficulty of the preservation of anatomical preparations made it necessary to produce life-sized wax duplicates of diseased parts of the body.

We can see how pathology developed and how pathologists from a literary circle laid the foundation of modern surgical pathology in Italy.

Pietro Betti was one the the masterminds of the museum, a custodian of pathology casts and looked after the museum in general.

In 1742 Antonio Cocchi, in his “Report on the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova” noted the need to establish a Medical Academy in Florence.  In 1824 the Florentine Medical Physical Society was founded.  The members of the Society proposed to study the medical sciences through strictly experimental methods. Maurizio Bufalini and Filippo Pacini, were members and Pacini discovered the tactile corpuscles, debates on nature of cholera which promoted studies on rules of hygiene and drinking water.  The museum in 1839 began regulations for conducting autopsies in the Hospital of S. M. N were established by the decree.  Each autopsy was to be presided over by the director of the Pathology Museum.  The deceased patient’s clinical history was to be read and filed.  The diagnosis made by the patient’s doctor was to be compared with the results of the autopsy.  The pathological organs removed by surgical procedures were to be conserved by the museum.  In cases where patients were cured, their doctors were required to send the museum a report on their post-operation case.

Due to the difficulty of ensuring correct conservation of the pathological material it was decided to have duplicates fabricated in wax.  The museum’s model makers referred to the experience and technical practices in the other wax modeling labs in Florence that of the Specola Museum.

The most famous work by Luigi Calamai is the so called “Leper, 1851″.

The value was in the teaching, allowing professors to illustrate the most important diseases to future physicians without have to refer to the dissection of cadavers.  The museum which attracted illustrious researchers in European medicine has a small anatomical collection that includes organic remains, as skeletons and part of organs.

The Institute of Pathology was moved to Careggi in 1959.  The present museum collection which is now managed by the Dept of Human Pathology and Oncology Institute occurred in 2000.

Throughout religious history, the use of wax votive figures had been offered in requesting divine intervention in an ailment or token of thanks.  The Florentine church of the Annunziata housed a series of these type of figures “boti” which represented a body part which needed the healing.  The use of wax was popular as artists could mould the wax and from 15th to 18th centuries, Leonardo da Vinci and Paolo Mascagni worked with ceroplastics wax in order to represent the lymph vessels using these the technique.  Note:  Mascagni employed Clemente Susini to make wax models of the human lymphatic system, which are still visible in a Bologna museum.  (Please look at my previous post on Bologna!)

In 1775, Pietro Leopoldo a first Hapsburg duke of Tuscany was attached to the wax studio La Specola, then a type of laboratory and it produced powerful waxworks from Clemente Susini, Luigi Calamai, Filippo Uccelli and Egisto Tortori.

The figures were produced on commission of Emperor Joseph II anatomical casts for the Josephinum in the Viennese Institute of the History of Medicine. For these waxes 30,000 gold coins were paid.

Moulage production in Berlin after 1889 occurred thanks to Oskar Lassar, founder of the Dermatological Society in Berlin.  He believed it was important for doctors of the skin to create their own moulages so their diagnostic abilities would improve.

So they had a one month course to expand the basic knowledge of moulage making.

These courses were restricted to doctors trained in dermatology. They could then construct their own moulages in the morphology of normal and diseased skin.

The collection includes wax reproductions and pathological specimens in dried and fixed formalin, displayed in wooden cabinets.

116 waxes by Guiseppe Ricci and Luigi Calami and Egisto Tortori reside in this collection.

The jewel is the Leper by Calami.  (His skin looks like a leper, but sorry not true).  Life size model, reproduced from the body of a man affected with an acute form of Norwegian Scabies.  This was cast in 1851 and it may have caused the celebrated wax master death from his long exposure of mercury solution which was used to preserve the corpse during the moulding of the body.

So, Rafaella was kind enough to start showing me around and explaining the collection.

Note:  The above image of breast cancer tumor growth.

She pointed out how artistic some of the work were and how difficult it must have been to model pointing out the little girl under glass.  We both found this piece moving and powerful on so many levels.

The focus was always to investigate the specimens and understand first the diagnosis of what was going on.  Then to give treatment.

It was pointed out that a grant was finally given to digitize the catalog of cases. The hope was to transcribe the masses of case studies of patients and their disease, looking at the diagnosis and what occurred to the patient in time.  A book eventually would be published.

All these clinical histories comprised a powerful archive with huge potentials.  It is a rare thing to have all these case studies, from the patient, the disease and what therapies were to be employed.

So the richness of the collection is that you have the wet specimen, the wax and the case reports and records all together and united.  This is truly rare from a medical perspective.

She even mentioned that currently the students can study and use the genetic material from the biological samples, to study breast cancer for example.

She had also mentioned that in the Hospital of Santa Maria Novella behind the Duomo, they had possibly found the dissection tables that possibly, allegedly,  were those of Leonardo da Vinci! I was amazed.  Still, things to unearth, secrets to unwrap in this beguiling city.  But this was a whispered and not yet confirmed, so only a bit of gossip for now!

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