This much-awaited book presents the research Lucia Dacome has been carrying on for a long period of time. It must be stated from the beginning that the result has been worth the wait. This book is one of the most carefully crafted and wide-ranging studies on early modern anatomical collections to date. It explores eighteenth-century wax anatomical collections in Bologna and other Italian cities from many sides—from Grand Tour travelogues to medical knowledge, from artisanal know-how to artistic connoisseurship, from patronage to religious ritual, from gender to the emergence of celebrity—without ever losing sight of its main characters: the objects and the material—the models and wax. The structure of the book is mostly chronological, and spans the whole century, from the 1730s projects of an ‘anatomy room’ at the Institute of the Sciences in Bologna up to the first signs of the obsolescence of such collections by the end of the century. It is a story of how the teaching of human anatomy found its last incarnation as a public spectacle before becoming a subject for doctors and medical students only.1 Chapter 1 details the patronage activities of Prospero Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV) in Bologna and Rome, and argues that his activism for natural knowledge must be read in the context of his ambitions as both a secular and a spiritual leader. Chapter 2 focuses on Ercole Lelli, the artisan of the anatomy room, and on his career from mechanical worker to refined artist, connoisseur and expert in human anatomy; it also explores the development of anatomical dissections after the wave of anatomical theatres. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on Anna Morandi and her husband Giovanni Manzolini, the famous ‘anatomical couple’ of wax modellers, and on their home as a space for domestic scientific activities. Morandi receives a sobering yet masterful treatment. Her life and works are described against the context of the patronage of learned women by the pope, the tradition of female artisanal waxworks, and the emergence of a new concept of celebrity. Chapter 5 examines the much less studied obstetrical collection of models gathered by surgeon and man-midwife Giovanni Antonio Galli in his house and its later acquisition by the Institute. This impressive chapter, which also explores the role of sight and touch in anatomy and the historical anthropology of dolls, challenges the narrative of a marginalisation of women from the profession of midwifery and unveils a more nuanced history of the transformation of ‘gestural’ knowledge into communicable form. Chapter 6 studies the acquisition of Morandi’s models by the nobleman Giovanni Ranuzzi in 1769, in conjunction with his medical entrepreneurship and his attempt at making his palace a Grand Tour destination. Chapter 7 takes the reader to the wonder-filled streets of Naples and Palermo, and offers a comparative view of the meanings and values of anatomical collections, as well as a fascinating perspective on the history of anatomical injections. This book is largely focused on Bologna, the capital of anatomical modelling, but the depth and the broadness of the analysis make it useful reading for early modern historians of European medicine, art, religion, science and material culture. It is microhistory at its best: Dacome multiplies the contexts of waxwork without losing coherence, and provides a twenty-first-century version of microhistory by including objects and materials. The book is never too emphatic in insisting on giving things back their agency. Dacome’s book allows indeed specific agency to objects and materials, but at the same it is more modest—and more successful than others—in connecting the autonomous action of materials with human agency, knowledge practices and feelings. Dacome also shows how religious and scientific worlds were close to each other in eighteenth-century Italy, and implicitly shows how, at least in the case of medicine, it is futile to ask whether religious practices were an obstacle or a positive factor in the development of scientific learning. The figure of Benedict XIV emerging from this study is that of a sovereign concerned with the very difficult task of asserting religious authority on both natural knowledge and devotion. Dacome thus subtly questions the idea of Benedict XIV as the ‘Enlightenment pope’.2 Some aspects deserve more attention from future historians, such as the travels of the material itself, wax, which still needs to be tracked, as it often came from Ottoman lands. Also, the visual analogies between the injected blood vessels of the Neapolitan models and maps of the veins that appear in Neapolitan barber-surgeons’ manuals go unnoticed, but could offer additional insights into the world of makers and knowers. Archival research is impressively deep and many archival finds punctuate the narrative. At the same time, historians of science and medicine will find important new historiographical material relating to relevant areas of inquiry such as: the home as a site for science, the history of maternal imagination, the relationships between medicine and sainthood, the history of women of learning in the Enlightened century, the complex links between making and knowing and the history of scientific tourism. Footnotes 1 Rina Knoeff and Robert Zwijnenberg, eds, The Fate of Anatomical Collections (London: Routledge, 2016). 2 Philip Gavitt, Cristopher Jones and Rebecca Messbarger, eds, Benedict XIV and the Enlightenment: Art, Science, and Spirituality (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Social History of Medicine. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Social History of Medicine – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 17, 2018
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