The Museum established in Palazzo Poggi is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. The structure of the Palazzo dates back to the works carried out in the 16 century to modify and enlarge the building that had been purchased at the end of the 15 century by the Poggi family. The plan to expand and embellish the palace dates from the mid-1500s and was the idea of Giovanni Poggi, powerful cleric and eminent figure in the papal curia.
The Museo di Pi Palazzo Poggi reconstitutes the laboratories and collections of the former Isituto delle Scienze – founded by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili – who worked there from 1711 to 1799. It was the first public institute dedicated to the scientific research and study following the methodology of direct observation and experimentation.
On account of the rich array of instruments available and the wide spectrum of disciplines covered – from Natural History to Archaeology, from Chemistry to Physics, from Astronomy to Anatomy, and applications of Mathematics and pure Mechanics – it represented a point of references for European Scientists that was avant-garde in terms of the means adopted, the methods followed and the areas of research cultivated.
Following the Napoleonic reform of the academies and universities, the laboratories of the Isituto delle Scienze passed to the various faculties of the University and subsequently formed the historical nucleus of the most important museums in Bologna. In 2000 the University of Bologna reopened the rooms of Palazzo Poggi to the public and reinstated the historical function of the building by returning the exhibits and scientific instruments to their rooms.
In here in 1758 Giovanni Antonio Galli (1708-1782), Professor of Surgery at the University of Bologna, set up a School of Obstetrics, where the science of the childbirth was taught to doctors and midwives, adopting a method that made use of wax panels and clay models of the uterus as well as instruments that simulated the real situation of gestation.
The practical side of Galli’s lessons was based on three dimensional models. That is to say, wax panels, today on display, were designed to provide a basic anatomical knowledge of the reproductive organs. Models were made of coloured clay, showing the evolution of the uterus during pregnancy and the positions assumed by the foetus inside.
However the most innovative aspect was the performance of practical exercises using “machines”, which allowed a stimulation of the practice of obstetrics. It was with the aid of the so called “birthing machines”, that Galli tested his students’ knowledge and learning.
The Bolognese Venerina is one of the more or less faithful replicas of the original model, the Venere dei Mecidi that Clemente Susini (1754-1814) made in Florence. The agony of a young women is represented in her last instant in life as she abandons herself to death voluptuously and completely naked.
The thorax and abandonment can be opened, allowing the various parts dissection. A virtual dissection, to be carried out by lifting the movable layers or “pieces” to reveal veins, arteries and internal organs. A young women, Venerina, carries a foetus in her womb – to suggest the proactive potential of the female body – despite the total lack of any outward signs of pregnancy.
The alienating effect that the statue produces by combining anatomical detail crude and repulsive, with a harmonious and sensual lightness, is a result of a precise scientific choice: sensitivity is an essential quality of matter; sensitivity – with its wide range of manifestation, including the sensuality of the Venerina who surrenders herself to death – lies at the core of the physical and physiological organisation of men.
Apart from this incredible and truly extraordinary collection focused on medicine and wonders of human body, you will be able to spot few less shocking displays, like The Ship Gallery, Geography and Nautical Room and fascinating library, with beautifully preserved Terrestrial Globe by Vincenzo Cornelli, from Venice, c. 1688. He was an official cosmographer for the Republic of Venice and founded the Academia degli Argonauti, considered the oldest geographical society of the world.
Amazingly affordable and fascinating – Bologna will stay in my heart for a long time, as a town which gave me one of the best weekends breaks with my sister. Thank you Italy!
Please, go to my previous posts to see what is worth seeing in this beautiful, but somehow overlooked city!