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Museum of Human Anatomy

Museum of Human Anatomy

The Museum of Human Anatomy is housed in the Medical School of Pisa was one of the first university towns to be provided with an anatomy school. The teaching of human anatomy was started at the wish of Cosimo I dei Medici, who had an anatomical theatre built in the Via della Sapienza.

It was precisely in the period that, with Andrea Vesalio (1514-1564), the dissection of human bodies ceased to be a clandestine practice to become a research instrument, encouraged and governed by regulations. This inaugurated a period of profitable anatomical research, leading to discoveries in the fields of physiology and pathology: Vesalio was succeeded by illustrious anatomists such as Gabbriello Falloppio (1523-1563), Lorenzo Bellini (1643-1704), Paolo Mascagni (1742-1815) and Filippo Pacini (1812-1883).

The foundations were thus laid for a Museum of Human Anatomy, a structure capable of preserving the many anatomical specimens of great scientific and cultural value. The Museum of Human Anatomy was founded under the rule of Leopold II of Lorraine by Tommaso Biancini, a dissector and professor of anatomy. It was inaugurated in 1832 under the name ''Gabinetto Anatomico'' (Anatomy Collection). In 1834 Filippo Civinni continued the systematization by providing descriptions for the anatomical specimens and by drawing up a catalogue that numbered the items described. At that time the museum preserved some 120 specimens, but by 1841 their number had risen to 1327, listed in the ''Catalogue of the Items of the Museum of Human-Comparative Physiological and Pathological Anatomy of the I. and R. University of Pisa'', published in 1842.

In January 1856 a new anonymous catalogue was published, listing 1617 items. It was entitled ''List follows of the items contained in the Physiopathological Museum of Pisa and collected from 1842 through 1855''.

Until the late 1960s the Museum of Human Anatomy occupied the ground floor of the Anatomy Division of the Medical School. Later on it was moved to the second floor of the same building, where it is still located. The original location on the ground floor caused the museum to be devastated by the flood of November 1944, triggered by the Germans in retreat, who blasted the parapets of the Arno in spate. A huge mass of water, mud and debris invaded the museum, causing irreparable damage to the specimens exhibited on the shelves and showcases.

The Museum of Human Anatomy contains, among other items, a rich osteological collection, including whole skeletons and individual bones coming in different varieties. There is an interesting collection of pelves, skulls of foetuses for the study of embryology, coloured bones for practical demonstrations, unusually tall skeletons, and skeletons of various human races. Among the many skulls, two are particularly interesting. One of them is of special educational interest in having the skull bones separated from each other (exploded model). In another, surely dating form a period when anthropology and criminology were in fashion, the surface of the skull vault is marked with different areas which were believed to correspond to special functions and aptitudes of the human mind. A beautiful syndesmological collection contains various specimens showing the different articulations between the bones and ligaments. The angiology department boasts a large number of specimens concerning the heart and the blood vessels obtained by embalming techniques and by injecting coloured gypsum (red for the arteries, blue for the veins). The angiological specimen that most strike the visitor are two anatomical statues exhibited in two elegant cabinets. The specimens vary considerably in size. Some of them have been obtained from whole bodies and are therefore meant to illustrate the human organism in its entirety; others, corresponding to individual organs or body parts, are intended to show anatomical details. In addition to highlighting the anatomy of the viscera, they are chiefly meant to point out the related vascular structures. These anatomical statues show a great variety of angiological structures, some of them very rare, classified according to number, size and topography. Extremely beautiful are the lymphatic vessel specimens obtained by injecting mercury according to the Mascagni technique, even though these items are now interesting more in historical and artistic terms that from a scientific and educational standpoint. The part dedicated to the viscera is particularly rich, with specimens representing the digestive, respiratory, nervous and urogenital systems. Most of the specimens of organs or parts thereof are preserved in special jars containing alcohol or formalin. The same preservation method was used for a beautiful collection of foetuses and foetal adnexa.

In addition to the original specimens, obtained directly from dead bodies, the Museum of Human Anatomy contains numerous anatomical models made of wax or plaster in the older cases, and plastic in the newer ones. Numerous plaster casts of prehistoric skulls provided by anatomical museums have become famous for the scientific work and discussion they have provoked. Wax is used for the models of human and animal embryos at various stages of development, for the development models of the different organs, including the heart, the eyes and the central nervous system, and the anatomical models of the eye, larynx and ear. Worthy of note is a life-size wax model of the human body, faithfully reproducing a young man in a relaxed attitude which gives it an artistic as well as scientific character. The skull is open and the dura mater has been incised and removed to expose the cerebral hemispheres. The thoracic cavity is also open, and the heart is visible between the raised lungs. The front abdominal wall is open to show the organs; the arteries, veins and nerves are in their respective positions. A special glass case contains the wax death mask of Paolo Mascagni, the first scientist to provide a perfect description of the lymphatic system. Embryological specimens include coloured wax models illustrating the most significant stages of human and animal development, from the very early stages of embryonic development to the foetal stages preceding birth, with demonstrations of organogenesis and volumetric growth. A special glass case preserves a large model of human embryo which can be studied in its different sections by using a system of levers that allow the various parts of the embryo to be moved. The embryological section is completed by a rare collection of foetal skeletons ranging in age from 60 days to birth.

The Museum of Human Anatomy also preserves items of archaeological interest, including a rich collection of pre-Columbian Peruvian vases. These vases, dating from the 12th to the 16th century, belong to the Chimu and Chancay pre-Incaic cultures of the Peruvian coast. They were part of funerary outfits and are decorated with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and phytomorphic depictions. The same pre-Columbian collection contains mummies, skulls and funerary outfits (tools, bowls, fabrics, etc.) of great medical and scientific interest. Two mummies (spontaneous mummification due to the arid climate of the Peruvian coast) are well preserved and in the typical foetal position; in one case the skull is artificially deformed.

Even more impressive is a collection of embalmed heads belonging to a Peruvian family whose members were beheaded. Worthy of note are the heads of two children aged only a few months.

Two of the mummies preserved in the museum are Egyptian. One of them is still inside its original, wonderfully preserved sarcophagus painted in vivid colours. A recent CT scan has shown that there are no organs inside the thoraco-abdominal cavity. There is only a compress corresponding to the cut in the anterolateral abdominal wall through which the body was eviscerated, an essential step in the embalming procedure used by the Egyptians. The corridors of the Human Anatomy Division are lined with a valuable series of anatomical plates executed by Paolo Mascagni, who was a professor at Pisa University in 1800. These plates of various sizes are in excellent condition and strike the visitor by their vivid colours and precise drawing, showing even the finest anatomical detail.

Admission: free

Visits by appointment - Closed on Saturdays, holidays and in the month of August.

For further informations:
Ph: +39 050 2218601
Fax: +39 050 2218606

Web site:
Apt Pisa

Via Roma 55, 56126 Pisa (PI)
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